More than 1 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases pop up across the world every day, a figure that shows health officials have made little progress in curbing infections over the course of about five years.
“We’re seeing a concerning lack of progress in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections worldwide,” Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization executive director for universal health coverage and life course, said in a statement. “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.”
A study published online Thursday by the Bulletin of the World Health Organization found that 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis developed among people between the ages of 15-49 in 2016. Some of the cases may be multiple infections at the same time or re-infections among the same people. The infections are curable with medicines, but people don’t become immune after being treated.
The rates, which are unchanged from the last data reported roughly five years earlier, are drawing the attention of global health officials because if the illnesses aren’t treated, they can have serious consequences, leading to infertility, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy, heart disease, and neurological conditions. Babies infected in the womb can develop birth defects, pneumonia, and blindness.
Because the infections can cause people to develop lesions in their genitals, they increase the risk of developing HIV, the sexually transmitted infection that causes AIDS, and that was not assessed as part of the study.
In many cases, however, people don’t have any symptoms and don’t know they are infected, and so they still risk infecting others.
Syphilis, which can be transmitted during pregnancy and childbirth, caused 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths in 2016. A shortage in the global supply of the medicine that treats it, called benzathine penicillin, has made it more difficult for healthcare workers to respond to outbreaks. Officials are also concerned about strains of gonorrhea that have become resistant to antibiotics, which would make the disease impossible to treat.