In the last couple of decades, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) have accounted for a lot of deaths and infertility around the world. This is due to the scanty knowledge that most people have about the various STIs.
While people already know about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and gonorrhoea, there are many more STIs which many, especially Ghanaians, are still blind to.
The lack of education is one thing, but it is worse when persons affected with STIs do not know how to handle it thereof.
What are STIs?
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections that can be commonly transferred from one person to another through sexual intercourse. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are over 30 different bacteria, viruses and parasites that are transferrable through sexual contact.
The most common STIs include syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
However, it is worthy to note that only four of these viral infections are currently incurable. Syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be cured, but no cure has yet been found for hepatitis B, HSV, HIV, and HPV.
But the WHO explains that the incurable STIs can still be subdued if detected early and treated.
Mode of transmission of STIs
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), otherwise known as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), as the name suggests, are predominantly transmitted through sexual intercourse.
An example of sexual contact that could lead to the spread of STIs is vaginal, anal and oral sex. However, there are other common ways by which these viral infections spread and these can also be through non-sexual means.
STIs could be transferred via blood or blood products. One way this could occur is during transmission from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth.
According to Madam Adelaide Kwansah, a Public Health Nurse at the St. Dominic Hospital, Akwatia, 80% of STIs are transmitted through sexual contact and 5% through the sharing of sharp objects and injectable.
“Meanwhile, 15% of the transmission of STIs is from mother to child. This can be done through three different ways.
“The first is during pregnancy. Here, the baby can be affected even before it’s born. The virus crosses the placenta into the baby’s system. But this can only happen when the mother is not on medication,” she explains in an interview with Pulse Ghana.
“Secondly, the virus can be transmitted during labour and delivery: there is exchange of blood so the baby can be affected. And, thirdly, transmission can be through breastfeeding. The viruses can stay in different fluids including the breast fluid,” Madam Adelaide Kwansah added.
Key Facts about STIs
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):
- More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide.
- Each year, there are an estimated 357 million new infections with 1 of 4 STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.
- More than 500 million people are estimated to have genital infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV).
- More than 290 million women have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (1).
- The majority of STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms that may not be recognized as an STI.
- STIs such as HSV type 2 and syphilis can increase the risk of HIV acquisition.
- Over 900 000 pregnant women were infected with syphilis resulting in approximately 350 000 adverse birth outcomes including stillbirth in 2012 (2).
- In some cases, STIs can have serious reproductive health consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself (e.g., infertility or mother-to-child transmission)
- Drug resistance, especially for gonorrhoea, is a major threat to reducing the impact of STIs worldwide.
Symptoms of having an STI
STIs have the ability to affect one’s sexual and reproductive health. That is why it is always appropriate to spot the symptoms and get early treatment to prevent it from escalating.
Mind you, not all the STIs have same symptoms. In fact, some of the symptoms may not immediately appear after you have been infected. What this means is that, you may not find out until it’s too late.
However, the common symptoms showed by persons infected with STIs include warts near the mouth, anus, penis, or vagina, swelling near the penis or vagina, painful urination and discharge from the penis or vagina.
Why you should get tested now!
The thing with STIs is that it may be too late by the time you find out you are infected. That is why it best to test now. Better still, visit the doctor regularly to ensure that you know your status.
Biomedical Scientist at the Cocoa Clinic in Accra, Valentine Ghanem, believes getting tested gives patients the time to treat STIs in order to prevent further transmission to other people.
“We have types [when it comes to the STIs]. The Type 1 is mostly common. About 90% of people have the Type 1 virus and it’s common in west Africa,” he tells Pulse Ghana.
“Then we have Type 2 which is less common and it is not easily transmittable to another person.” He added that the more the virus stays with the patient, the more difficult it becomes to treat.
“We’ve noticed a high drug resistance. The viruses are becoming more resistant to the drugs that we have. That has become a problem but early testing and treatment makes treatment easier.”
Once you have tested and found out that you are positive for any of the STIs, the next step should be seeking treatment. The good thing is that, treatment for some STIs are free in Ghana.
For HIV/AIDs, for instance, the treatment programme is free except for a few testes.
“Treatment should be readily available at the point of testing and there should be counselling to educate the infected persons psychologically. The treatment can be sustainable. It is free. Everything that goes on with the Aids Control Programme is supposed to be free,” Madam Adelaide Kwansah said.
“Now we are adding treatment as a form of prevention. If the person is on treatment, the viral load is so low and becomes difficult to contract the virus.”
Expert opinion on healthy living, devoid of STIs
On the way forward for the youth to live healthily and avoid STIs, Mr. Ghanem said: “The best treatment approach is just abstinence because the condoms these days cannot be trusted. They are not preventive enough and burst quite often.”
The Biomedical Scientist further stated: “Abstinence or keeping to one sexual partner. That is fidelity. People should not keep multiple sexual partners. If we don’t have people who are sleeping around then there is a good chance that the trend of the STI can be localised and treated.”
On Madam Kwansah’s part, she advised: “Prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. If you test a pregnant woman and she is positive, we put the person on treatment. The treatment is for life. And you have to take it seriously even after you deliver.”
The Public Health Nurse adds: “A lot of people know that they have STIs but they are hiding due to fear. So we are covering up the status of people and providing stigma free care but society must play a big role in this.
“Now we are advocating for the correct use of condom. Because you cannot guarantee people’s abstinence, you advocate for condo use.”
As youths, there is whole future ahead waiting for us to take up the mantle of leadership. Don't let STIs stifle that future.
Get tested now, and seek early treatment if proven to be positive of any of the STIs!