At some point you want to yell in frustration. CDC recently published STD surveillance data for 2012 that point to the same worrisome trends: 19 million new STDs each year and our most vulnerable populations – particularly young people, women, and men who have sex with men- continue to endure a significant share of the STD burden.
The 15,667 cases of primary and secondary syphilis cases reported in 2012 represents an 11% increase over the previous year, all of which occurred in gay and bisexual men.
Gonorrhea cases increased more than 4% and while the chlamydia incidence remained fairly stable at 1.4 million cases, CDC believes the true burden of chlamydia is closer to 3 million cases each year. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are frequently without symptoms (especially with females); without prompt treatment these infections can cause a number of complications including infertility.
We know myriad social factors are behind the disturbing trends and statistics: mass incarceration, poverty, stigma, homophobia. Consider that STD control efforts are continually hampered by a combination of politics, misguided policy priorities, and budget cutters with sharp scissors. Add to that the fact that the best STD control programs we develop are limited by a complex array of social factors including stable housing, transportation to clinics, and leave time from work. For sexual minorities, finding a safe, caring medical home remains a significant challenge.
I’m frustrated, yes, but still optimistic because the people working in the sexual health field are passionate and committed. It’s never been more vital for those in the fields of sexual health and social justice to maximize our resources by building coalitions and working together. Also critical is articulating STD prevention messages that highlight condom use along with greater access to testing and vaccines. Also, given that STDs cost this country $16 billion each year, a key message to policy makers is that in addition to being sound health policy, STD and HIV prevention programs save money.
I invite you to learn the facts, get involved, and speak up. For tips on getting started visit the advocacy page of ASHA’s website.
Yours in good sexual health,
ASHA President & CEO
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