Sexual health charities urge ministers to tackle 'rising tide' of STIs

Sarah Young
Illustrations by Erin Aniker

Sexual health charities are urging the government to take action against the spiralling number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK.

The call comes as part of a new report by the Terrence Higgins Trust and British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BASHH) which highlights the “unacceptably high” STI rates in the country with a diagnosis every 70 seconds on average.

According to the “State of the Nation” report, there were 447,694 new diagnoses of STIs in 2018 – a rise of five per cent from the previous year.

Similarly, common STIs including chlamydia, herpes and gonorrhoea are all on the rise, with the report stating that syphilis diagnoses are at their highest since World War II.

Over the last decade, figures show that gonorrhoea has risen 249 per cent and syphilis 165 per cent, while rates of chlamydia increased by six per cent in 2018.

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

The report partially blamed the surge on a lack of national strategy and the fact 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.

“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,” the authors wrote.

Young people aged 15-24 represented nearly half (48 per cent) of all new STI diagnoses in 2018, the report found, while diagnoses in men and women over the age of 65 have risen almost a quarter (23 per cent) 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, chairman of the Terrence Higgins Trust, agreed adding that the government needs to take “comprehensive action” to halt the “rising tide of STIs”.

“There needs to be a long-term approach to improving sexual health,” McShane said.

“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.”

The charities 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.

The authors do point out that there have been successes in reducing some diagnoses, particularly concerning HIV and genital warts.

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

Read more

Sex Education star says she thought masturbation ‘was a boy thing’