Getting STD tests in Chile sucks and here’s why

There came a time in one of my relationships where it became important to check my STD status.

So I went like any responsible adult for a checkup, just in case I had picked up something along the way. I was in my usual state of semi-poverty/stinginess, so of course I didn’t want to fork out money to see a doctor.

I found a website advertising free STD tests at a local hospital. Impressed with the forward thinking Chileans, I made my way one Wednesday morning to check it out. Not finding any sign of the place, I asked a receptionist for where I could get tested for STDs. Luckily when I’m speaking in Spanish I don’t seem to get embarrassed – something about being a foreigner allows me to be “promiscuous”.

STD Blood tests

She sent me to the Dermatology area, where I repeated my question to a passing nurse. She was stumped, but found me a doctor who shaked her head at me and mumbled something about the clinic not existing anymore. She told me I had to go to a doctor and pay. Of course I had to ask her to repeat herself a few times before I understood her. I ❤ Chilean Spanish.

But I didn’t want to pay a doctor just to get a list of lab tests. By chance, on my walk back to the metro, I saw a laboratory and went in and asked the *three* receptionists sitting behind the counter if they could test me for any possible STDs. 

They did some brainstorming, called someone, and finally presented me with a list.

I didn’t hear them mention Chlamydia, or Gonorrhea.

Oh, I wanted those too?

Ummm, yeah… Did you not hear me? I want to test for *any possible* STDs.

They added them to the list, and tallied up the bill.

Once I had paid, they brought me into a nurse who took my blood. I was then handed off to another nurse who spread my legs, pierced me with metal and poked me with cotton swabs.

I tried to stay calm throughout, especially when the nurse peering into my vagina had a frown on her face, and rushed off to talk to someone as soon as she was finished. Lovely.

A few days later, when I came in to get my results, I started to feel panic. I knew it was illogical. There was 0.01% chance I had HIV but at that moment, my imagination wasn’t feelin’ the logic. They called a nurse to give me the results.

While I was waiting, I had plenty of time to imagine the awkward humiliation of telling my parents, my ex-sexual partners and my friends that I was diseased. I had accepted the fact that I had probably infected people, and that I was a murderer.

When the nurse finally appeared on the scene, she started to rummage through my file, searching and searching. What could she be looking for?

By this stage, I was in a hate spiral for not being more careful, for ever having sex, ever. I was responsible for my own early painful death. I would have to quit my startup and leave Chile early. It was a disaster of epic proportions.

Finally she found it. Jesus. And made me follow her into a private room. I decided I was going to just sew up my vagina and throw myself off the nearest tall building. Anything but have to go through this again.

She put the results on the table and asked me to fill out a form.

A form? What now? Why didn’t she just SAY IT? Why was she postponing the inevitable?

I glanced down, and caught a glimpse of the word “negativo”. Phew. All was well in the world.

I filled out the form while she stuffed the papers in an envelope.

I asked her if everything was ok, and she assured me it was, and handed me the envelope.

I walked to a nearby park bench and opened it. It was incoherent. Was was V.D.R.L? What was Flujo Vaginal? What was Ureaplasma Urealyticum because I seemed to have it. But I didn’t have Mycoplasma. Did that mean that Ureaplasma Urealyticum wasn’t serious?

I went back to the three receptionists and confessed to my infection right there in the waiting room. What could they do for me? I wanted a cure. They told me to go to a gynaecologist down the road.

I went to Google instead. I don’t see why, on top of $200 of lab tests, I have to pay money for someone to interpret my lab results? Isn’t this pretty straightforward? 

All I want is:

a. a standard list of STD lab tests in any language that I can print off and bring with me to a lab so I don’t have to rely on uninformed receptionists.

b. an email with the results as soon as they are ready, along with explanations of each test and what the result means so I know what I need to do next.

c. and free tests would be awesome. Most people can’t afford to pay $200 to get checked.

Fear causes people to avoid getting tested, and spread more diseases. Forcing people to wait and denying them information causes panic. In general, in all my interactions with nurses and receptionists, it was obvious that being proactive about sexual health is not the norm in Chile. Instead of being rewarded for taking care of my sexual health, I felt shame for being so open about the fact that I was having unprotected sex, like I was a criminal or something.

I thought sex was supposed to be a joyous act? All I see is risk of STDs even if you use condoms, fear of pregnancy even if you use contraception, and guilt if you ever ask for a pregnancy test or an STD test. God forbid you might be having sex with someone without the intention of getting pregnant.

DontHaveSexEver

Even if I do have an STD, there are treatments. No one should be given reason to panic, ever. I never want to have to go through that again.

Is it any better where you are from?

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11 thoughts on “Getting STD tests in Chile sucks and here’s why

  1. I found this really interesting! I had no idea it was that difficult to get tested and to get results explained to you in Chile. I suppose I never thought about what the process is like outside of the U.S. It sounds like a pain in the butt, and you described the wave of varying emotions that overcome you while waiting for results accurately. It’s an intense experience, and even the surest people begin to have doubts of their health in those waiting rooms. Super nerve racking.

    1. Thanks! I actually left out some other details too – like the clinic I went to thought that VDRL (syphilis) test was the same as for Gonorrhea- they were convinced of it – even when I went back later with proof from Google, so I had to find another clinic to get a Gonorrhea test. I wonder how many Chileans have Gonorrhea and aren’t aware of it!

      1. Based off of your experiences, I wonder how many Chileans have any STDs and aren’t aware of it because the process to find out seems to be misinformed and daunting! If I had to go through what you went/are going through to find out, I would be far less likely to keep up with testing than I am here where I can easily access doctors and medical information in person. It really blows my mind that testing is complicated the way it is there.

      2. Hello! Ellen, Thank you so so much for this post. I feel very alone in my struggles right now. I am living in Chile now and I am in a similar situation… I know your post is a few years old, but I could absolutely use any advice you can give. I payed to see a doctor and he did not run a single test and prescribed me medication for BV. While I would be delighted if BV is the issue, I need test results to feel convinced. When I asked for the tests he gave me a sheet of paper to go to a lab for HIV and syphilis, but no Gonorrhea or Chlam…

      3. Hey Laura, sorry to hear that! I don’t actually live in Chile anymore but another person gave me the following advice:

        … I will explain how Chilean medical stuff works.
        A) for people who can afford our private system :
        1.-You have to visit either a general medical practitioner or an urologist / gynecologist and request the tests. pay for your visit.
        2.- take the tests at a lab and pay for them. For some tests you must sign a form due of a ministry of health order .
        3.-weeks later go back to the lab asking for your exams. If the results are negative you will see them of the paper you are free to go, else you must talk with the same doctor (maybe you have to pay again)
        B) for people who are on the public system:
        1.-You have to visit either a general medical practitioner at a public hospital /clinic. pay for your visit ( if you are not entitled to a free service).
        2.- take the tests at a lab and pay for them ( if you are not entitled to a free service). For some tests you must sign a form due of a ministry of health order .
        3.-weeks later go back to the lab asking for your exams. If the results are negative you will see them of the paper you are free to go, else you must request another appointment and maybe pay for it ( if you are not entitled to a free service).
        c) Since 2001 there are a myriad of free services . just google them.

        If you want more tests, in my experience, you can ask for them yourself, or, try another doctor! Take care of yourself!

  2. I am currently volunteering teaching English in Chile. My boyfriend is coming to visit me in two months and we want to start having unprotected sex. He is getting tested in the US and I was planning on getting tested here. But I have since learned it is going to be next to impossible. I don’t speak the language and anyone I’ve talked to in English about it thinks it’s strange that I would even mention it. And I have heard it is even considered rude to use a condom after the first time here. This country is rather developed in so many ways, but is much lacking on the proactive sexual health side. I feel at a loss. And it makes me sad for all the sexually active teens and adults here. I wish there was something I could do

  3. I am currently going through this process as well. No one will do the tests unless I have an “orden” from a doctor. So I went to the doctor, told him what I want to be checked for, he looked me over and then filled out an “orden” about a minute later. There goes 30.000 pesos. I’m happy I didn’t go strait to the lab, though – he has me signed up for all sorts of extra tests that I absolutely won’t need. Nonetheless, I’m looking at an additional 40.000 bill for the following tests. And now my favorite part thus far! No other lab wants to accept the “orden” because the doctor didn’t specify how to take the tests. Well, it’s a good thing the only lab that will take it is nice and far away and only does tests on weekdays . . . ! I feel your pain, this running around is nonsense!

  4. Oh , I know this is too late… but I will explain how Chilean medical stuff works.
    A) for people who can afford our private system :
    1.-You have to visit either a general medical practitioner or an urologist / gynecologist and request the tests. pay for your visit.
    2.- take the tests at a lab and pay for them. For some tests you must sign a form due of a ministry of health order .
    3.-weeks later go back to the lab asking for your exams. If the results are negative you will see them of the paper you are free to go, else you must talk with the same doctor (maybe you have to pay again)

    B) for people who are on the public system:
    1.-You have to visit either a general medical practitioner at a public hospital /clinic. pay for your visit ( if you are not entitled to a free service).
    2.- take the tests at a lab and pay for them ( if you are not entitled to a free service). For some tests you must sign a form due of a ministry of health order .
    3.-weeks later go back to the lab asking for your exams. If the results are negative you will see them of the paper you are free to go, else you must request another appointment and maybe pay for it ( if you are not entitled to a free service).

    c) Since 2001 there are a myriad of free services . just google it

    YOUR mistake was your lack of information prior to walk to a Chilean clinic and the fact Chileans do not speak English.

  5. @Laurabernardette: I had medical experiences in UK,France, Canada and US. Let me tell you the Chilean system has just few differences with your system :
    The patient receives the results instead of your doctor: this is good in the sense you will know the results and with that information you can decide if another visit to the doctor is required.
    The patient receive the results independently of the outcome. In some countries the ‘ no news, good news ‘ is common, but how can you be sure you are OK?
    And last but not least the is no point comparing health systems

  6. Thank you very much! Yes I have been abruptly introduced to the healthcare differences through this experience ha… But I have sence found assitance from a friend of a friend who is a doctor here in santiago. He gave me the form I needed for the tests. Yeah, I would argue “no news” is scarier lol…

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