Four prominent yet curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise around the world with as many as 1 million new cases being reported every day, according to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO). In all, more than 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis are reported each year in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 globally.
To estimate the global incidence of these four infections, researchers analyzed data obtained at a variety of national, regional, and local levels between 2009 and 2016. When compared to 2012 numbers, they found that there has been no decline in either the rates of new or existing infections. In fact, one in 25 people around the world have at least one STI at any given time – some even have multiple.
“We’re seeing a concerning lack of progress in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections worldwide,” said Dr Peter Salama, executive director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO, in a statement. “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.”
Generally speaking, rates were highest in low-income countries and territories, with the exception of chlamydia, which was highest in the upper middle-income countries, partly due to high estimates in Latin American countries. It’s important to note that the data is limited and may in fact be underestimated. Regardless, the numbers provide an “initial baseline” for monitoring progress in achieving international goals.
In 2016, the WHO announced its global health sector strategy on sexually transmitted diseases in an effort to scale-up intervention and services to end STIs as public health concerns by 2030, including a 90 percent reduction in gonorrhea and syphilis. Global efforts aimed at providing timely and affordable testing and treatment, strengthened prevention, improved quality of care, and investing in vaccines are a few of the measures the agency says are needed to reach these goals and should be prioritized by nations around the world given the impact STIs have on the health of adults and children.
STIs are the most common communicable condition and are spread through unprotected sex, childbirth, pregnancy, and contact with blood or blood products. If left untreated, these four infections can have serious health effects, including impacts on pregnancy and birth, neurological and cardiovascular disease, infertility, as well as an increased risk of exposure to HIV, domestic violence, and stigmas associated with sexual health.
Here’s the thing: they’re also preventable through safe sex practices, correct and consistent condom use, and adequate health education – all crucial in preventing the spread of STIs, especially as recent shortages in the global supply of benzathine penicillin has made it difficult to treat syphilis and microbial resistance to gonorrhea could someday make the disease untreatable.