More than one million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis are contracted daily around the globe, according to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) Thursday.
The data, which were published in the WHO Bulletin, were collected from men and women around the world who were between the ages of 15 and 49. The data allow WHO to monitor the global burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) against the Global Health Sector Strategy on STIs, which aims to end STIs as a public health threat by 2030 by scaling up evidence-based interventions and services.
A 'concerning lack of progress' in STI cases
According to WHO, at any given time, about one in 25 people around the world have at least one of the four STIs, with some individuals having multiple infections.
Specifically, WHO found that in 2016 there were:
- 156 million new cases of trichomoniasis;
- 127 million new cases of chlamydia;
- 87 million cases of gonorrhea; and
- 6.3 million cases of syphilis.
If left untreated, the curable STIs can lead to serious and chronic health effects such as cardiovascular disease, increased risk of HIV, infertility, neurological disease, and stillbirth, according to WHO.
For instance, syphilis is considered one of the leading causes of infant death worldwide and was responsible for about 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths in 2016.
Overall, the data show STIs are a "persistent and endemic health threat" around the globe, WHO wrote.
Further, according to WHO, the new data reveal that there has been no significant decline in the rates of new or existing STI infections since 2012.
The lack of progress on STI cases demonstrated in the report is "concerning," according to Peter Salama, Executive Director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO. "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," he said.
Challenges to treatment
All four of the STIs can be treated and cured, but, according to Melanie Taylor, an author of the report and medical epidemiologist at the WHO department of Reproductive Health and Research, "most of these infections occur without symptoms." As a result, "patients … don't realize they're having the infection … and thus the opportunity to transmit the infection is quite high."
WHO said treatment is further compounded by a shortage in the global supply of benzathine penicillin. In addition, WHO said gonorrhea is becoming more resistant to treatment, which may eventually make the infection impossible to treat.
Reducing rates of infection
To reduce the rate of infection, Matthew Chico, assistant professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said, "[E]fforts to improve STI surveillance, and develop new treatments and diagnostics, must be a top public health priority." He added that the health system "urgently need[s] to reduce the spread of these infections and invest in new antibiotics and treatments to replace those that no longer work" (Avramova, CNN, 6/6; Gale, Bloomberg, 6/6; WHO news release, 6/6; Rowley et al., WHO report, 6/6).
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