Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

  • More than one million sexually transmitted infections are acquired every day worldwide (STIs).
  • Every year there are an estimated 500 million persons who contract one of the following four STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.
  • More than 530 million people are estimated to have genital infection with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2).
  • More than 290 million women have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
  • Some STIs can treble the risk of HIV acquisition.
  • In some cases, STIs can have serious consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself, including the transmission of chronic illnesses and diseases from mother to child.

More than 30 different bacteria are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. Eight of these pathogens are linked to the greatest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Of these 8 infections, 4 are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. The other four, hepatitis B, herpes, HIV and HPV are incurable viral infections whose effects can be mitigated with treatment.

VIH

– What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that infects cells of the immune system, destroying or impairing their function and preventing them from being able to combat infections and diseases.

– What is AIDS?

AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a term applied to the most advanced stage of HIV infection..

– HIV is transmitted through:

  •  Unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal) and oral sex with an infected person
  • Transfusion of contaminated blood
  • Sharing of contaminated needles, syringes and similar instruments
  • Between a mother and her infant during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding

– HIV is NOT transmitted through:

Ordinary contact (kissing, hugging, or sharing personal objects, food or water).

– What is the feminisation of HIV?

About half of the persons who are HIV-positive worldwide are women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 76% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are infected are women.

– Why are women more vulnerable?

Inequality and that lack of respect for women and girls’ rights are key factors in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

– Some of the factors that put women and girls at risk include:

  • Lack of adequate access to information, education and sexual health services
  • Women’s inability to secure access to and negotiate the use of methods that provide protection
  • Male promiscuity
  • Sexual violence
  • Harmful traditional practices that affect the reproductive health of women and girls
  • Lack of equality in family matters

How can the risk of HIV infection be reduced?

– Use condoms

The correct use of condoms during penetration can provide protection against the spread of STIs and HIV.

– Get tested and seek advice on HIV and ITSs

Knowing your serological status will help you to:

  • Take measures before the first symptoms appear (access to treatment, care and support)
  • If you know that you are infected, you can take precautions to stop the spread of HIV.

– Damage limitation for intravenous drug users

Persons who inject drugs can avoid being contaminated if they use only sterile syringes for each injection.

– Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT)

The transmission of HIV from a HIV positive mother to her child is called vertical transmission or mother-to-child transmission. This can be prevented entirely provided that the mother and the child are given antiretroviral drugs (ARV) during all stages during which the infection can occur.

Female genital mutilation, HPV and cervical cancer

– What is female genital mutilation?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves removing and damaging normal and healthy female genital tissue by means of instruments such as razors, knives, scissors, blades or pieces of broken glass without anaesthesia. It is a cultural practice that is carried out in many countries to define who belongs to a particular community or when a girl has reached adulthood.
This practice, which causes pain and immediate bleeding, interferes with the natural function of girls’ and women’s bodies.
According to the WHO, between 100 and 150 million women and girls suffer from the consequences of FGM.

– Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of cervical cancer tend to appear only when the cancer has reached a relatively advanced stage. They may include:

  • Irregular or intermenstrual bleeding (between periods), or abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Back, leg or pelvic pain
  • Fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite
  • Vaginal discomfort or odorous discharge
  • A single swollen leg

Risk factors

  • Early first sexual intercourse.
  • Multiple sexual partners.
  • Tobacco use.
  • Immune suppression.

Prevention

Early treatment prevents up to 80% of all cervical cancers. Regular screening is recommended in order to help detect the illness.

– Types of screening

  • Conventional (Pap) test and liquid-based cytology (LBC)
  • Visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA)
  • HPV testing for high-risk HPV types.

– HPV vaccination

There are currently 2 vaccines which protect against some types of HPV, and they work best when administered before the first sexual activity.
WHO recommends vaccination for girls aged 9-13 years as this is the most cost-effective public health measure against cervical cancer.

– HPV vaccination does not replaced cervical cancer screening.

Other preventive measures

  • Warnings about tobacco use.
  • Sex education.
  • Promotion and provision of condoms.
  • Male circumcision.