The rate of sexually transmitted infections in Wales has fallen significantly over the course of the last two years, a new study has revealed, and the result appears to be of particular note given that it seems to go against the overall worldwide trend.
Global estimates, according to data that was published late in 2015 by the journal PLOS ONE, show that around 357 million new infections occur each and every year with four of the world’s most common forms of sexually transmitted diseases, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis and gonorrhoea.
Around a million sexually transmitted infections occur every single day, and over 500 million people are believed to have a genital infection with HSV (herpes simplex virus), while over 290 million women have been infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). The great majority of STIs have either mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but can have serious long-term consequences including infertility in women.
2016 sees STIs fall for Wales
In the first six months of this year data shows that there have been major falls in the number of gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis cases in Wales, in comparison to the same time period two years earlier in 2014. The number of cases of new HIV diagnoses literally halved, while syphilis cases fell by as much as 31 percent and instances of gonorrhoea and genital warts fell reduced by 12 percent.
The Welsh Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans AM, says that while she is very happy with the progress that has been made – which is obvious from the falling figures – the country can still not become complacent when it comes to sexually transmitted infections. A comprehensive review of the nation’s sexual health services will now be carried out by Public Health Wales, Evans has announced. She anticipates that this will be starting early in the new year. The review will take a look at the needs and risks of the country’s population, as well as the service delivery model for the nation’s integrated sexual health services.
Evans’ statement follows another announcement that Wales is to establish an independent group that will be composed of experts in HIV. Their task will be to review the effectiveness of the pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs in preventing HIV infection, and the likely implications of that effectiveness with regard to the acquisition and prevention of different sexually transmitted infections.
Evans says the review will not evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs in relation to the financial costs, as that responsibility falls to the All Wales Medicine Strategy Group, but that it will provide an early indication of the highly innovative and potentially revolutionary nature of the medicine. The group of experts is expected to make their recommendations by the end of the year.
New HPV vaccination programme to be implemented in Wales
Evans also says that 2017 will see the introduction of a brand new human papillomavirus vaccination programme, which will be targeted towards gay and bisexual men as a response to the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Recent evidence has suggested that HPV immunisation is also likely to offer a protection against a greater array of cancers which are often more commonly observed in gay and bisexual men. The new programme will be aimed at members of that demographic aged up to 45, who go to specialist sexual health clinics. Others who may be in a higher risk category for HPV infection for other reasons, may also be offered vaccination, depending on clinical judgement.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s ongoing review will also examine the possible benefits surrounding the introduction of routine HPV vaccinations for every adolescent male, with the findings of the Committee on this possibility expected to be available early in the New Year.
Evans adds that Public Health Officials – and her own officials – will continue to work side by side in order to make sure that the prevention of sexually transmitted infections becomes a part of the ordinary day to day lifestyle choices of every individual. The goal is that illness and harm in terms of long term health can be prevented, and current inequalities in the health system reduced considerably.