Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a serious public health issue. It’s estimated that globally, more than a million people are diagnosed with one or more STI, such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia or syphilis, every day. What’s more concerning is that the prevalence of infection with chlamydia, for example, has remained unchanged over the past 10 years despite better screening in developed countries.

As the name suggests, STIs are spread mainly through sexual contact. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex; some infections can also be spread by non-sexual means, for example, from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.

STIs can have devastating effects on sexual, reproductive and general health. They can also lead to a number of complications. If left untreated chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause damage to reproductive organs and result in long-term complications such as infertility. People can even die if certain STIs such as syphilis are left untreated, or if they have complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease in the case of chlamydia. To make matters worse, STIs increase the risk of HIV infection and transmission. This is because the body’s response, which is meant to help fight the sexually transmitted infection, causes a concentration of “activated” immune cells in the infected area. It then becomes easy for HIV to infect and replicate in the immune cells that are “activated”. So it’s cause for concern that SA, with 7.9-million people living with HIV in 2017, also has a high volume of STIs. In 2017 there were an estimated 2.3-million new cases of gonorrhoea, 1.9-million new chlamydia c...

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