STIs Are Increasing In Many Regions, New WHO Report Finds

HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) collectively cause about 2.5 million deaths and 1.2 million cases of cancer each year, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report, released Tuesday, found that case notifications of STIs are increasing in many regions, and new HIV and viral hepatitis infections are not declining fast enough. Four curable STIs—syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis—account for more than 1 million infections each day. Hepatitis-related deaths have also increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022.

WHO concluded that “the global response is currently off-track” to meet the 2025 targets to reduce new infections and decrease disease mortality.

The targets were set in 2022 with the goal of ending AIDS and the epidemics of viral hepatitis and STIs by 2030. Tuesday’s report is the first of a series of biannual reports on the progress of meeting these targets. One of the targets is for there to be less than 1.5 million new HIV and viral hepatitis cases per year by 2025 and less than 500,000 by 2030. In 2022, the latest available data, there were 3.5 million new cases per year.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the report that the global targets for both 2025 and 2030 won’t be met “unless we have a significant acceleration of focus and effort.”

“HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections continue to pose a major global health challenge,” the director-general said in the report. “We have the tools required to end these epidemics as public health threats by 2030 — we now need to ensure that in the context of increasingly complex global challenges, countries do all they can to achieve the ambitious targets to which they aspire.”

Read More: A Million New STIs Are Contracted Every Day, the WHO Says

Many countries reported increases in cases of adult and congenital syphilis after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the new report.

New HIV infections declined from 1.5 million in 2020 to 1.3 million in 2022, the report found. But it noted that certain population groups—men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people, and people who are incarcerated—still face an increased risk of infection compared to the general population. HIV-related deaths are also still high—in 2022, there were about 630,000 HIV-related deaths, 13% of which were children under the age of 15.

Still, WHO noted in the report that countries’ efforts to expand health services have led to significant progress. WHO has validated 19 countries for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis. WHO has also certified two countries in the African Region—Botswana and Namibia—for being on the path to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

More than 75% of people living with HIV globally are receiving antiretroviral therapy, and 93% of people receiving treatment have suppressed viral loads, the report found.

WHO made several recommendations in the report, including that countries work to address stigma and discrimination in health care settings against populations most affected by HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs, and that countries strengthen their focus on primary prevention.

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