By Opija Raduk
Every day, there are more than 1 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among people aged 15-49 years, a recent study by World Health Organization (WHO) reveals.
The study shows that this results into more than 376 million new cases annually of four infections: chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis.
“We’re seeing a concerning lack of progress in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections worldwide,” says Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO.
“This is a wake-up call for a concerted effort to ensure everyone, everywhere can access the services they need to prevent and treat these debilitating diseases.”
These sexually transmitted infections cause acute urogenital conditions such as cervicitis, urethritis, vaginitis and genital ulceration, and some of the etiological agents also infect the rectum and pharynx. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause serious short- and long-term complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, chronic pelvic pain and arthritis, and they can be transmitted during pregnancy or delivery.
Syphilis can cause neurological, cardiovascular and dermatological disease in adults, and stillbirth, neonatal death, premature delivery or severe disability in infants. All four infections are implicated in increasing the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) acquisition and transmission.
On average, approximately 1 in 25 people globally have at least one of these STIs, according to the latest figures, with some experiencing multiple infections at the same time.
STIs are spread through unprotected sex, while some, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis, can be transmitted during pregnancy and childbirth.
Low-income countries tend to have the highest rates of gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis and syphilis. Chlamydia tend to be more prevalent in upper-middle income countries.
Africa has the highest prevalence for chlamydia in men, gonorrhoea in both women and men, trichomoniasis in women and syphilis in both men and women. The Americas (North and South America) has the highest prevalence of chlamydia in women and of trichomoniasis in men.
Published online by the WHO Bulletin, the research shows that among men and women aged 15–49 years, there were 127 million new cases of chlamydia in 2016, 87 million of gonorrhoea, 6.3 million of syphilis and 156 million of trichomoniasis.
These STIs have a profound impact on the health of adults and children worldwide. Syphilis alone caused an estimated 200 000 stillbirths and new-born deaths in 2016, making it one of the leading causes of baby loss globally.
STIs are preventable through safe sexual practices, including correct and consistent condom use and sexual health education.
Timely and affordable testing and treatment are crucial for reducing the burden of STIs globally, alongside efforts to encourage people who are sexually active to get screened for STIs. WHO further recommends that pregnant women should be systematically screened for syphilis as well as HIV.
All bacterial STIs can be treated and cured with widely available medications. However, recent shortages in the global supply of benzathine penicillin has made it more difficult to treat syphilis. Rapidly increasing antimicrobial resistance to gonorrhoea treatments is also a growing health threat, and may lead eventually to the disease being impossible to treat.
Use of condoms and improved access to sexual health testing are both crucial in tackling the spread of STIs. WHO has set a target of 90 percent reductions in the incidence of gonorrhoea and syphilis globally, by 2030. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org