Syphilis rates soar

The Bahamas is grappling with high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI) with more than 1,200 cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea reported last year, according to data from the Department of Public Health.

This compares to 1,002 cases the year before.

There were 265 cases of gonorrhea and 1,004 cases of chlamydia reported in The Bahamas in 2018.

The data revealed that between 2014 and 2018 there were 4,992 cases of chlamydia.

It also noted 1,181 cases of gonorrhea.

There were 2,616 individuals who tested positive for syphilis at least once between 2014 and 2018, according to a recent report from the STI Unit at the Department of Public Health.

Fifty-three percent of those cases were men.

“In this time period the annual number of persons who tested positive for syphilis increased by 63 percent (439 in 2014 and 714 in 2018),” the report read.

“Positive tests increased by 69 percent among males and by 57 percent among females. Increases were also observed among all age groups between 2015 and 2018.”

The report also noted that there was a 55 percent increase in positive tests among young people, who are 15 to 29, between 2015 and 2018.

It also noted a 38 percent increase in cases among 30 to 44 year olds, and a 173 percent increase among individuals over 45.

“Although 173 percent increase in positive cases was observed among the population aged over 45, these numbers are more likely to include persons who have been cured of syphilis,” the report read.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said the high rates of the STI were not surprising.

“I don’t know why that would be a surprise given the severe prevalence of HIV in The Bahamas since there is some synergy in terms of infections with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” he said.

“If at the end of day, you see an increased number or prevalence of HIV then you would expect to see a comparable relative increase in incidence of chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, etc.”

The minister said the government has increased its education campaign and is ensuring that it provides “safe, confidential places for testing and treatment” of STI patients.

He said the government is working on introducing home testing kits for STIs.

“We are now looking at some adjustments to availability of testing,” the minister said.

“Unfortunately, this now brings us back to HIV; to make HIV self-testing available through a number of places, including the pharmacy, and to have it priced by subsidizing the self-test kits.”

Sands said the government is also looking at how to amend its draft patients’ bill of rights to ensure that all people, including minors, have access to diagnostic and therapeutic care for sexually transmitted infections.

“Understand that there is a challenge right now for a young person to access healthcare without a guardian or a parent,” he said.

“These individuals may be sexually active or even getting pregnant so that becomes an impediment to seeking care, so we’re looking at how we can and we have a draft bill now that rethinks the whole approach to the emancipated minor in terms of accessing certain types of healthcare services.”

In June, the World Health Organization noted that one million sexually transmitted infections occur every day.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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