Precious Robinson, chief technical specialist for prevention, care and treatment at health NGO, Right to Care, is calling on South Africans to, “Use condoms to reduce your risk of getting HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which include the human papillomavirus (HPV). Go to your closest clinic or health facility to get help and prevent HIV and STIs, as well as pregnancy.”
STIs often do not cause symptoms for a long time and can be transmitted during sexual intercourse or during pregnancy. When left untreated, STIs can lead to long-term, irreversible outcomes and even death.
Robinson’s plea forms part of Right to Care’s efforts during STI and Condom Awareness Week (10 -16 February 2022), to raise awareness about the consequences of unprotected sex and avoiding healthcare services.
Consequences can include chronic pelvic pain, cancers, ectopic pregnancies, infertility, adverse pregnancy outcomes, neonatal death and congenital abnormalities. A congenital abnormality is an inherited medical condition that occurs during or before birth. Some STIs increase chances of getting HIV
“It is a serious concern that in South Africa 7.9 million people were living with HIV in 2020 with a high volume of STIs. The high numbers of STI cases have partly been due to inadequate prevention. South Africans, and young people especially, need to protect themselves.
“Most global health targets to end and prevent HIV and STIs for 2020 were missed because the focus was on Covid-19, and South Africa is no exception.
It is time to go back to ABC,” she says. “Abstain from sex, be faithful to one partner and use a condom if you do want to have sex. Young South Africans have their whole lives ahead of them, but if they do not use condoms, protect themselves and seek out health services, their futures will be more difficult.
“By going to the clinic, your healthcare worker will help you prevent these diseases. If you’ve been having unprotected sex, your healthcare worker will screen you for STIs and HIV and if necessary, start you on treatment immediately to prevent the devastating effects of untreated STIs and HIV,” says Robinson.
Robinson explains, “Many people are especially vulnerable because they are unable to avoid infection or pregnancy. This can be due to a lack of knowledge, social and cultural pressures, as well as gender-based violence.
“Women and girls are disproportionately affected by STIs,” she says.
“Unprotected sex without a condom increases your risk of getting HIV or an STI, especially if your partner’s HIV status is unknown. Having more than one partner also increases your risk. People who inject drugs risk getting infected from contaminated needles and syringes.
“Using condoms decreases your risk and also helps prevent pregnancy. Girls and young women need to delay pregnancy until they are older when their bodies are ready and when they are financially and emotionally ready to raise a child.
“Sexual and reproductive health education and services are as important for men as they are for women,” says Robinson. “Information and services are available from parents, teachers, non-governmental organisations, churches, youth groups and healthcare providers in family planning, STI and HIV clinics.”
Robinson also underscores the importance of medical male circumcision. “Circumcision has been core to South Africa’s HIV prevention strategy since 2010, preventing new HIV infections and saving lives. Circumcision also plays a key role in preventing STIs, especially HPV which causes cervical cancer in women.”
Globally, STIs and HIV cause 2.3-million deaths and 1.2 million cases of cancer each year and impose a major burden on health systems.