According to a new report by the World Health Organization, over one million sexually transmitted infections are contracted each day around the world.
Collectively, each year, there are 376 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis combined. In some cases, people are reported to have recurring or co-infections of these STIs throughout the year.
As a result of this data, WHO is calling for a larger focus worldwide into STIs, especially since gonorrhea is becoming resistant to antibiotics, and syphilis is seeing its highest rates in recent years.
“These figures demonstrate an incredibly high global burden of these sexually transmitted infections,” said Dr Melanie Taylor, the lead author of a study published in the WHO Bulletin. "These infections are treatable and curable with antibiotics but unfortunately most of these infections occur without symptoms and thus people don’t realise they have the infection, they don’t realize they are at risk and they don’t go in for testing and treatment. The opportunity to transmit the infection to their sexual partners but also from mothers to their unborn infants is very, very high.”
Dr Teodora Wi, the WHO’s medical officer for sexually transmitted infections, added that STIs are more common than generally believed and need to be more regulated by health officials.
“We need to talk openly and honestly about sexually transmitted infections. STIs should not be treated differently from any other infection,” Wi said. “Most importantly, we cannot sweep them under the carpet and pretend that they don’t exist.”
Unfortunately, research budgets have been cut tremendously across the world. “We are all in this together," Wi added. "For policymakers: make sex safer and support STI services. Please do not cut the budget on STI control and STI services. Even increase it.”
Wi is calling for cheaper and more affordable tests, adding that health care providers should “respect the right of everyone to make sexual choices that fit with their own personal values” and “normalize the discussion about sex."
“Be rational, be responsible, be safe and have fun," she added. "Use a condom correctly and consistently and if you think you have an STI, do not be ashamed. Go to your doctor and make sure you do not transmit the STI to others."
The WHO data, which researched cases from the years 2012 to 2016, stated that there were 127 million new cases of chlamydia, 87 million cases of gonorrhoea, 6.3 million cases of syphilis, and 156 million cases of trichomoniasis among men and women aged 15 to 49 in 2016 alone.
The organization notes that, since 2012, there has been little to no improvement in the numbers.
Dr Peter Salama, the executive director for universal health coverage and the life-course at WHO, said, “We’re seeing a concerning lack of progress in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections worldwide. 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.”
“The rise in cases of STIs around the world is alarming, especially as the antibiotics we rely on to treat many of them are becoming less and less effective,” Dr Tim Jinks, the head of Wellcome’s drug-resistant infection program, said. “The high numbers of cases of gonorrhoea are of particular concern. We are increasingly seeing incidences of so-called super-gonorrhoea which are practically impossible to treat, with cases detected in the UK and Australia last year.”
He continued: “We do not know what the burden of super-gonorrhoea is in low- and middle-income countries, but with a broader rise in gonorrhoea cases we can expect to see drug-resistant forms of the disease become more common all over the world.
“Untreatable cases of gonorrhoea are harbingers of a wider crisis where common infections are harder and harder to treat. We urgently need to reduce the spread of these infections and invest in new antibiotics and treatments to replace those that no longer work.”