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African and America Reporting Highest Rates of Gonorrhoea and Syphilis, Says WHO

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that new data indicate a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in most regions, with the highest increases seen in the Americas and Africa.

During his opening remarks at a virtual media briefing on global health issues, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus highlighted the ongoing public health challenges posed by global HIV, viral hepatitis epidemics, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In Nigeria, the National AIDS and STDs Control Program reports approximately three million annual cases of STIs, primarily caused by chlamydia, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Trichomonas vaginalis. These infections can lead to various short, medium, and long-term complications, with women being particularly vulnerable.

Dr. Ghebreyesus noted, “New syphilis cases among adults aged 15-49 years increased by nearly one million in 2022, reaching eight million. There were also 230,000 syphilis-related deaths. The highest increases occurred in the Americas and Africa. New data also show an increase in multi-resistant gonorrhoea. As of 2023, out of 87 countries where enhanced gonorrhoea antimicrobial resistance surveillance was conducted, nine countries reported elevated levels of resistance to the last line of treatment for gonorrhoea.”

He further mentioned that the WHO has updated its treatment recommendations to curb the spread of multi-resistant gonorrhoea. WHO data also revealed that an estimated 1.1 million pregnant women were infected with syphilis in 2022, leading to over 390,000 adverse birth outcomes. The organization emphasized that drug resistance is a significant threat to reducing the burden of STIs globally.

Dr. Ghebreyesus expressed concerns over the rising incidence of syphilis but noted progress in accelerating access to critical health commodities, including diagnostics and treatment. He stated, “We have the tools required to end these epidemics as public health threats by 2030, but we need to ensure that countries do all they can to achieve the ambitious targets they set themselves.”

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The WHO also highlighted the effectiveness of condoms in preventing STIs, including HIV, when used correctly and consistently, although they do not protect against STIs causing extra-genital ulcers like syphilis or genital herpes. Additionally, safe and highly effective vaccines are available for two viral STIs: hepatitis B and HPV. By the end of 2023, the HPV vaccine had been integrated into routine immunization programs in 140 countries, primarily high- and upper-middle-income countries.

To eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem globally, the WHO emphasized the need to achieve and maintain high coverage targets for HPV vaccination, screening and treating precancerous lesions, and managing cancer by 2030.