Syphilis, chlamydia and herpes on the rise in the UK

Sexually transmitted diseases are steadily rising in the UK despite a concerted effort on the part of the government to tackle them.

The number of cases of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases in the UK has been steadily rising, despite a national government strategy introduced five years ago to tackle them.

According to the latest figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other conditions diagnosed increased by 3% between 2004 and 2005.

Syphilis soared by 23%, affecting 2,807 people, with the rise particularly affecting women, among whom the increase was almost two and a half times higher than among men, while the number of cases of chlamydia, still the most common STI, rose by 5% and now affects 109,832 people.

Genital warts and herpes also registered increases of 4%.

The only disease included in the figures that was on the decrease, was Gonorrhea with the number of cases falling by 13%, the second successive year that cases of the disease have decreased substantially.

Sexual infection diagnoses have been almost continually rising since the 1990s, with the highest rates of infection for both sexes among 16 to 24-year-olds.

The figures clearly indicate that the government's national strategy for sexual health is failing and have drawn sharp criticism from the Family Planning Association, which has been warning repeatedly that financially constrained NHS trusts are siphoning off money allocated to improve sexual health services.

A 10-year programme launched in 2001 promised extra investment to the tune of £47.5m to reduce STI transmissions, which rocketed in the 90s.

Professor Peter Borriello, director of the HPA's centre for infections,says the figures may reflect the greater availability of testing but admits the increasing numbers are a challenge to healthcare professionals.

The figures he says serve as a reminder for people to take responsibility for their own sexual health.

Anne Weyman, of the Family Planning Association, also says better public awareness and screening services mean more people were coming forward for testing and treatment but she warns services are struggling to cope, as trusts are failing to spend allocated money on genitourinary medicine (GUM).

Ms Weyman says there is grave concern about whether services can cope with the extra demand and pressure and many experts in the field agree.

She says primary care trusts must ensure that money for sexual health services actually reaches the clinics it is intended for.

The government also recently released data showing the number of abortions rose slightly by 0.4% last year to 186,400 terminations in England and Wales.

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