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Gonorrhoea cases at their highest level since records began – with queer men among the worst affected

Josh Milton September 3, 2020
Gonorrhoea cases at their highest level in the UK since records began

(Stock photograph via Elements Envato)

Cases of syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia all jumped in 2019, one of the British government’s top health bodies has revealed, alarming sexual health activists.

Data recorded by Public Health England (PHE) showed a five per cent surge in the number of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) from 2019 compared to 2018. With 468,342 cases tallied.

Three of the most common STIs – syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia – were already reaching record highs in 2018, but last year saw a sharp increase overall, worrying health officials.

The data showed that young heterosexual people, Black folk and queer men were the most affected by the rise in STIs. Such rises among vulnerable demographics were unsurprising, campaigners said, considering the government’s “inaction” in curbing transmission spreads.

A head of the Terrance Higgins Trust, a sexual health charity, attributed the rise, in part, to a run-down sexual health programme whose funding has long been squeezed by Conservative governments.

Chlamydia tests plunge for young people as gonorrhoea caseloads among queer men soar.

Across PHE’s main testing program, there was a 26 per cent leap in the number of gonorrhoea cases – the sharpest rise among the three diseases. Leaping from 56,232 to 70,936.

It marks the biggest annual figure for gonorrhoea cases since records began in 1918.

The majority of gonorrhoea cases in 2019 were reported by queer men and other men who have sex with men. However, the report accompanying the data stressed, “notable” increases in diagnoses were recorded among women and heterosexual men.

The syphilis rate soared by 10 per cent and chlamydia by two per cent, but what caused alarm among some experts and campaigners were the results of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme.

As much as the number of chlamydia tests carried out on people aged 15 to 24 budged slightly up by two per cent from last year, overall, 15 per cent fewer tests were done from 2015.

Among queer men and MSM specifically, 77,371 STI diagnoses were made in 2019.

Around 44 per cent of cases were gonorrhoea, followed in numbers by chlamydia (30 per cent). Public health officials said such rises were due to upticks in men having multiple partners, having condomless anal sex and for engaging in chemsex.

Chlamydia cases have climbed at an alarming rate among queer men and MSM, seeing a 83 per cent jump in the last four years.

Sexual health inequalities among Black and queer men are in no way ‘new’, stressed charity chief.

Such increasingly limitless demand has collided with limited funding, Ian Green, chief executive of THT, warned.

“Today’s new STI figures clearly show the impact of the government’s ongoing inaction and lack of vision for improving the nation’s sexual health,” he said.

“Rates of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis are rising significantly while sexual health services are over-burdened and under-funded.”

Green stressed how STI rates have remained disproportionately high among Black people and queer men. “The data shows that Black people bear a far higher burden of common STIs, with a nine per cent increase in STI rates among Black Caribbean people in 2019,” he said.

Green added: “These inequalities aren’t new but there’s still a shocking lack of information about the impact of structural inequalities including racism, homophobia and transphobia.”

More: chlamydia, England, gonorrhoea, Public Health England, sexual health, sexually transmitted disease, STI, syphilis, Terrence Higgins Trust

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