Call for Government action to stem ‘rising tide’ of sexually transmitted infections

Charities have called for action to tackle spiralling sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in England in a new report.

STI rates are “unacceptably high”, with a diagnosis every 70 seconds on average in England, the Terrence Higgins Trust and British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BASHH) said.

There were 447,694 new diagnoses of STIs in 2018 – a rise of 5% from the previous year, according to the sexual health organisations.

They are calling on the Government to urgently implement a new sexual health strategy and funding to reduce the pressure on services across the country and tackle the threat of drug resistant STIs.

Though there have been successes in reducing diagnoses of HIV and genital warts, common STIs including chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and gonorrhoea are on the rise.

Genital warts cases have fallen 3% since 2017, while in 2018, there were just over 4,000 new HIV diagnoses (4,044) in England – a 6% drop from the previous year.

But over the last decade, gonorrhoea has risen 249% and syphilis 165%, while rates of chlamydia increased by 6% in 2018.

Trichomoniasis and shigella are less common STIs, however since 2017 there have been 8% and 91% increases in new diagnoses respectively.

The State of the Nation report said there has been a lack of national strategy and that spending on sexual health services has been cut by a quarter since 2014.

The authors also identified challenges around antimicrobial resistance, which is said to be threatening effective treatment of a number of STIs.

The UK saw three cases of extensively drug resistant gonorrhoea (XDR-DG) emerge in 2018.

They write: “The clear lack of vision in England for tackling these STIs and the threat they pose, as well as the unwillingness to prioritise this, does little to combat the rising concern.”

Young people aged 15-24 represented nearly half (48%) of all new STI diagnoses in 2018, the report found,

But in men and women over the age of 65, diagnoses have risen almost a quarter (23%) since 2014.

Dr John McSorley, BASHH president, said: “Years of Government funding cuts and disruption caused by fragmented commissioning structures have placed incredible pressures on sexual health services in this country.

“At a time when we are seeing significantly increased demand from the public and record levels of sexual infection, including the spread of difficult to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of disease, the decision to dis-invest in this vital public health area is nonsensical.”

Jonathan McShane (pictured), chairman of the Terrence Higgins Trust, added: “We urgently need comprehensive action that can help to halt the rising tide of STIs.

“There needs to be a long-term approach to improving sexual health.

“An ambitious strategy, matched with proper funding, is the only way we can support people to have healthy and fulfilling sex lives.

“The Government must roll up its sleeves and get to work because the current state of the nation is simply not good enough.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The Terrence Higgins Trust.