Syphilis is re-emerging across Northern Ireland, according to leading sexual health experts, who are calling for the health minister to tackle the outbreak.
A decade ago, the disease, was almost eradicated from Northern Ireland, but those on the front line, say they are seeing a ‘worrying increase’ in the number of cases. The latest available STI surveillance figures show that in 2011, 52 new cases were diagnosed, but Dr Wallace Dinsmore of the GUM clinic at the RVH says those statistics are out of date: “ Syphilis is something that we thought had gone from the province, now it is a daily occurrence. We have cases of babies affected by syphilis once every two weeks, which is something we had not seen for decades. The service has been under invested for the past 30 or 40 years, despite the sharp rise in incidence of STIs, including Syphilis.”
The spread of the infection is very simply because more people are having unprotected sex more often.
With NI Sexual Health Week beginning on Monday 10th February agencies are coming together to appeal for the health minister to take action. North Belfast DUP MLA, Paula Bradley, chair of the All Party Group on Sexual Health, has organised an event at Stormont on Tuesday to raise awareness among the public and politicians:
“Syphilis is spreading, as is Gonorrhoea and it is clear that sexual health services are under real pressure, I know that those working at the GUM clinic in the Royal are finding it really hard to cope with the level of demand, we need to look at ways to alleviate the pressure on the system through the use of innovative technology which could speed up the testing process. We need investment in the service and to get sexual health on the agenda at Stormont”.
It isn’t just the NHS services seeing an increase in demand, private clinics are also experiencing a soar in numbers, as is Randox, which has developed the Confidante home STI test kit.
Dr Gary Smyth Medical Director at Confidante, says the public need to take Syphilis seriously: “Syphilis is an STI which if left untreated can cause mental deterioration, blindness, deafness, all sorts of issues with the central nervous system and eventually leads to early death. Pregnant women can pass the condition on to their unborn baby, which can cause stillbirth or death of the baby shortly after labour…We need to encourage anyone who thinks they may be infected to “#TakeTheTest, whether that is by using a kit at home or by visiting the GUM clinic’’.
The #TakeTheTest campaign has received a huge boost with one of Northern Ireland’s most popular radio presenters signing up as ambassador. Cool FM DJ Sonya Mac is encouraging her thousands of listeners to start talking about sexual health: “My listeners like to go out, they like to party and that leads onto other things, so they need to be aware that there are things that they don’t want to get – and if they think they could have something, they need to make sure that they’re responsible, that they take the test and get treated”.
Click the picture below to buy your home STI kit.
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