Half a million young people treated for STIs over two years in Gauteng

Johannesburg - The number of sexually transmitted infections in Gauteng has increased by half a million over the last two years among young people, according to DA’s Jack Bloom.

Speaking to News24 on Wednesday, Bloom said that the numbers were alarming considering how STIs including syphilis and gonorrhea increased one's risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Bloom told News24 that many young people between the ages of 20-29 did not fear an STI diagnosis because they knew it was curable with antibiotics, but that they rarely knew that having an STI increases your chances of getting HIV, which is only treatable.

Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa was responding to Bloom’s questions regarding STIs in the province. According to a table supplied by Ramokgopa, new STI treated ‘episodes’ doubled from 205 960 in 2015 to 465 944 in 2016.

Male urethral syndrome infections – which cause abdominal pain and pain when urinating – doubled from 55 021 in 2015 to 104 720 in 2016.

According to Ramokgopa, research showed that females tend to be the ones attending public health facilities more than men. Ramakgopa attributed the high number of STIs in the age group in Gauteng to “social, behavioural and biological factors”.

Gauteng has a population of 12.2 million, with 22% of that population made up of those between the ages of 20-29, according to data site, Wazi Map. Out of 2.6 million people between 20 and 29 years, 500 000 were treated for STIs.

“Half a million for just this province is quite a jump. If you’ve got chlamydia, your chances of getting HIV sky-rocket, and there is also a chance of passing the disease on to others,” Bloom said.

'A lot of serial monogamy among youngsters'

Bloom said that the generation between the ages of 20 and 29 are tech-savvy and this could be something that is driving up their numbers as more and more people turn to social media platforms for hook ups.

“They are less committed to relationships, they have a high number of sexual partners which they engage with, and we have the phenomenon of older men preying on younger women,” he said.

Dr Judith Kluge of the Family Planning Unit in Tygerberg, Cape Town says that the number of STIs has always been high in South Africa and that the numbers are often underrated.  

“Even in the Western Cape, there was a study looking at HIV negative patients less than 24 years old, and they had high STI rates. 33% of the infections were attributed to chlamydia, which is a silent infection that shows no real symptoms,” she said.

Chlamydia is a curable infection which does not pose obvious symptoms at first, but can lead to pregnancy complications at a later stage, Kluge said.

Gonorrhea is a common bacterial infection that also doesn’t immediately show its effects at first but may lead to infertility if left untreated.

Syphilis occurs at three stages over a number of years, she said. Its effects can attack any body part at any time and often starts off as a sore.

Kluge said certain aspects of sexual behaviour in the age group contribute to chances of contracting a STI, coupled with other factors such as drinking and partying. Misinformation, she said, was confusing a lot of young people.

“My subjective experience is that there is a lot of serial monogamy among youngsters. Young people are designed not to see high risk behaviour as a major factor, that is why condom use is generally very low among them, sometimes a girl will sleep with a promiscuous guy without knowing that contraception doesn't stop you from getting an infection,” she said.

Bloom said that the current HIV/Aids prevention programmes were disappointing and that more needed to be done to educate the youth about the infection rates.

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