Raising awareness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the use of condoms in South Africa remains critical. The week of 11-15 February 2019 is aimed at advocating for healthy sexual relationships among sexually active partners. Estimates from modelling studies reveal that in 2017, there were 2.3 million new gonorrhoea cases, 1.9 million new chlamydia cases and 23 175 new syphilis cases among women aged 15-49 years. In the same year, the corresponding estimates among males of the same age were 2.2 million, 3.9 million and 47 500 for gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis respectively.
What is of great concern is that these estimates have remained unchanged over time. STIs are preventable and many are treatable, they are spread predominantly by sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some STIs can also be spread through non-sexual means such as via blood or blood products.
Today the focus on STIs has brought a new message to people living with HIV. The message being Undetectable= Untransmittable; which means an HIV positive person with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the HIV virus to their HIV negative partner. However, this message does not directly address the transmission of STIs other than HIV and its success is limited by the extent to which people can take treatment and therefore maintain undetectable viral loads. Moreover, research on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is an HIV prevention tool that involves the taking of ARV based medication to prevent HIV infection, has shown that when PrEP is taken consistently as intended it can reduce one’s chances of acquiring HIV but not the other STIs.
In order to reduce the number of STI infections and the burden thereof, the approach on STIs should strengthen the facilitation of increased awareness on individuals to know their partners’ sexual history and limit their number. In addition, increase advocacy on the use of condoms amidst undetectable HIV viral loads among people who are HIV positive and those who PrEP, improve knowledge on vaccination for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus and intensify awareness of risky sex practices.
The NICD has released a series of podcasts available in three languages, English, Afrikaans and isiZulu; in addition, an English audio byte is attached above. To listen to the three podcasts, click on the links below: