WHO: STIs rising, amidst surge in HIV, hepatitis

By Guardian Reporter , The Guardian
Published at 08:09 AM May 23 2024
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general
Photo: Courtesy of WHO
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general

GLOBAL HIV, viral hepatitis threats on the rise, along with traditional sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are causing 2.5m deaths around the world each year, on the basis of a new report of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, says in his executive summary of the report that STIs as a whole pose significant public health challenges as WHO works on implementing global health sector strategies on HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs for 2022–2030.

The report highlights new data showing that STIs are increasing in many regions, where in 2022, WHO member states set out an ambitious target of reducing adult syphilis infections ten-fold by 2030, from 7.1m to 0.71m.

Yet, new syphilis cases among adults aged 15-49 years increased by over 1m in 2022 reaching 8m, with the highest increases noticed in the Americas and the African Region.

Combined with insufficient decline seen in the reduction of new HIV and viral hepatitis infections, the report flags threats to the attainment of related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, he stated.

“The rising incidence of syphilis raises major concerns,” he said, pointing at important progress on a number of other fronts including in accelerating access to critical health needs like diagnostics and treatment.

“We have the tools required to end these epidemics as public health threats by 2030, but we now need to ensure that, in the context of an increasingly complex world, countries do all they can to achieve the ambitious targets they set themselves,” the WHO administrator affirmed.

Four curable STIs – syphilis (Treponema pallidum), gonorrhoea (Neisseria gonorrhoea), chlamydia (Chlamydia trachomatis) and trichomoniasis (Trichomonas vaginalis) – account for over 1m infections daily, with a surge in adult and maternal syphilis by1.1m, the report affirms.

This situation is associated with congenital syphilis (523 cases per 100 000 live births per year) during the COVID-19 pandemic, while in 2022 there were 230 000 syphilis-related deaths, it said.

Multi-resistant gonorrhoea was on the rise as last year out of 87 countries where enhanced gonorrhoea antimicrobial resistance surveillance was conducted, nine countries reported elevated levels (from 5.0 per cent  to 40 per cent) resistance to ceftriaxone, the last line treatment for gonorrhoea, it said.

“WHO is monitoring the situation and has updated its recommended treatment to reduce the spread of this multi-resistant gonorrhoea strain,” the report asserted, noting also that in 2022, around 1.2m new hepatitis B cases and nearly 1m new hepatitis C cases were recorded.

The estimated number of deaths from viral hepatitis rose from 1.1m in 2019 to 1.3m in 2022 despite a considerable supply of effective prevention, diagnosis, and treatment tools, it said.

Decline in new HIV infections from 1.5m in 2020 to 1.3m in 2022 was a rosy part of the report, with groups like anal sex relations, people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender individuals and individuals in prisons and other closed settings being most at risk.

They still experience significantly higher HIV prevalence rates than the general population, with an estimated 55o per cent of new HIV infections occurring among these populations and their partners. HIV-related deaths were still high as in 2022 there were 0.63m HIV related deaths, 13 per cent of these occurring in children under the age of 15 years, the report indicated.