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Gauteng Health cautions against risky sexual behaviour as STI infection rises

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) has cautioned the public against engaging in risky sexual behaviour, as this increases the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV infection.

Between April and December 2023, 167 109 males presented at public health facilities across the province and 67 400 (40%) were treated for male urethritis syndrome (MUS).

According to the provincial department, the MUS data accurately reflect newly acquired STIs.

Symptoms of MUS include discharge from the penis and burning urination.

If left untreated, complications can include pain and swelling of the testes, while gonorrhoeae and chlamydia are the most predominant cause of MUS in South Africa.

In 2020, the MUS incidence in the province was recorded at 12% and has increased over the years to 15% in 2023.

The department said it has noticed a peak of STI incidence in sub-districts E (Alexandra and Sandton) and F (Inner City, Braamfontein and Hillbrow) in Johannesb

Some areas include the Merafong sub-district in the West Rand, Katlehong, Ekurhuleni South, Germiston, Katlehong and Vooslorus, Lesedi in Sedibeng and Bronkhorstspruit in Tshwane.

Sub-districts E and F in Johannesburg have tertiary institutions and high-risk individuals such as sex workers and people who inject drugs.

Meanwhile, Merafong is a mining area with a majority male population. Region 7 has farming areas, where cultural norms hinder the uptake of services, especially amongst men.

Ekurhuleni South and Lesedi have technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, informal settlements, truck stops and hostels.

The GDoH has implemented a combination of prevention intervention approaches, which incorporate STI components in these areas such as the promotion of consistent use of male and female condoms, which are free and available in health facilities.

The interventions also involve encouraging the reduction in the number of sexual partners, increased uptake of HIV counselling an
d testing, STI screening, delayed sexual debut, as well as the promotion of sexual wellbeing.

The MEC for Health and Wellness, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko has urged people who are sexually active to use male and female condoms, which they can access free at their local healthcare centres to protect themselves against STIs and HIV.

She said the rise in MUS is attributed to high rates of unsafe behaviour such as non-use of condoms while engaging in vaginal or anal sex, multiple sexual partners, inconsistent condom use, high levels of substance use and cultural norms.

‘Our clinics provide free condoms and STI and HIV prevention, testing and treatment services. We should not let STIs go untreated, as they increase the risk of HIV infection and transmission, which will hamper the province’s goal to reduce new HIV infections by 2030,’ emphasised Nkomo-Ralehoko.

In addition, the MEC encouraged women to start early antenatal care as soon as they realise that they are pregnant for thorough screening of any STI, and app
ropriate and timely treatment for those who test positive.

Between April and December 2023, she said 1 255 out of 66 377 pregnant women who presented at our facilities for antenatal care for the first time tested positive for syphilis.

‘If left untreated in pregnant women, syphilis can have adverse outcomes for the growing baby as well as increased morbidity in the mother. It can be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy (congenital syphilis), leading to stillbirths, health complications, congenital deformities and even infant death,’ said the concerned MEC Nkomo-Ralehoko.

The MEC also said that there has been a noticeable increase in women who are presenting at health facilities to be initiated on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which is an antiretroviral drug prescribed for HIV-negative people to prevent them from becoming infected with HIV.

Between April and November 2023, 38 305 females aged 15 to 49 years were initiated on PrEP, compared to 11 988 males.

‘We believe that the high uptake of PrE
P among women has led this group to have unprotected sex resulting in a high incidence of MUS. The studies have reported that STI incidence is also high among young women receiving PrEP.

‘We would like to encourage more males to get initiated on PrEP to protect themselves against STIs. Additionally, both men and women who are on PrEP should use condoms to protect themselves against STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies,’ the MEC said.

Source: South African Government News Agency