The worsening case of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in South Africa points to the fact that South Africans continue to be extremely irresponsible about their sexual conduct This despite the proliferation of messages calling for protection and testing. It must be said that STDs can be deadly if people do not change their behaviour.
According to figures released by the Department of Health, more than 1 million people have been treated for sexually transmitted diseases in the past year.
The figures do not take into include patients treated at private health institutions. There are many cases that go undiagnosed because infections do not always present symptoms typical of the STDs. The reality, therefore, suggests a bigger problem than that reflected in the health department’s statistics.
Although alarming, the figures reflect a worldwide phenomenon which poses hard questions for policy makers in the health fraternity and society as a whole.
The increase in STDs suggests that people are not aware, or concerned, about the wider ramifications of the diseases. The bigger question, though, is why warnings are not being heeded and not creating the necessary impact and awareness.
The numbers must urge communities to answer the more pressing question of what needs to be done to save the next generation from the shame, infertility and, at times, death, that may result from the prevalence of STDs.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there could be 499 million cases of curable STDs worldwide.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US indicated that sexually transmitted infections STIs and STDs have reached unprecedented and epidemic proportions in 2013 and 2014 after there had been a decline.
Prior to 1960, there two sexually transmitted diseases were prevalent – syphilis and gonorrhea. These were easily treatable with antibiotics. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the scenario changed with the emergence of other strains of STDs.
In 1981, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS was identified.
The WHO in 2015 reported that 36.9 million people worldwide lived with HIV. In its midyear population estimates last year, Stats SA reported there were 6.19 million people with HIV-Aids.
In the US, for example, chlamydia, a small parasitic bacteria, appeared in increasing numbers and is now the most common STD in the country.
In 1985, human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes venereal warts which often lead to deadly cancers, was on the increase.
By 1990, a penicillin resistant gonorrhea was identified. There are many diseases stemming from STDs including pelvic inflammatory diseases with devastating effects on women.
The rise of sex conditions have shot up primarily due to the failure to use condoms and the unawareness by people that they may be presenting with STD or STI symptoms.
Teenagers today are more sexually active than ever before and have become most susceptible to STDs, with females being the most susceptible.
Binge drinking among the young, the acceptance of the culture of one night stands, the impunity with which couples have multiple partners and prostitution are cited as major contributors to an increase of STIs. And now there has been a call to decriminalise prostitution.
It has been argued that laws against prostitution make it difficult for sex workers to seek regular heath checks.
In countries such as Senegal, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany, where prostitution is regulated, sex workers are able to set their own terms with regards to rates and what sexual acts they are willing to perform.
Authorities are able to disseminate safe sex education, distribute condoms and closely monitor sex workers and those who wish to enter the market.
This makes it possible for authorities to do background checks including their identification,residence and age.
Recommendations for the prevention of STDs have focused largely on women under 25, who are engaged in sexual activity or have multiple partners and men who have sex with men.
Older people are just as vulnerable as younger people, especially in the context of the sugar daddy phenomenon.
Older people are also less likely to discuss their sexual activity. Many older people are sexually active, including those with HIV, and have the same HIV risk factors as younger people.
However, they are more likely than younger people to be diagnosed with STDs and HIV as it is often assumed they are not sexually active and therefore unaware of their status.
A late diagnosis in the course of the diseases including HIV means starting treatment late and possibly suffering more immune system damage.
Pinky Khoabane is a writer and social commentator.