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Sexually Transmitted Infections Surge: WHO Calls for Urgent Action on HIV and Hepatitis

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Infections of HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to pose significant challenges in the global health landscape, as highlighted in a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) titled “Implementing the Global Health Sector Strategies on HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Sexually Transmitted Infections, 2022–2030.” These epidemics collectively contribute to 2.5 million deaths annually, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive intervention strategies.

One alarming trend highlighted in the report is the surge in sexually transmitted infections observed across various regions worldwide. Despite the ambitious goal set by WHO Member States to reduce annual adult syphilis infections by ten-fold by 2030, from 7.1 million to 0.71 million, new syphilis cases among adults aged 15-49 years increased by over 1 million in 2022, reaching a total of 8 million cases. This concerning trend was particularly pronounced in the Region for the Americas and the African Region, signaling a significant setback in sexually transmitted infections control efforts.

Furthermore, the report underscores the insufficient progress made in reducing new HIV and viral hepatitis infections, posing significant obstacles to achieving the related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, expressed deep concern over the rising incidence of syphilis, emphasizing the critical need for concerted global action to address these escalating epidemics.

Escalating Sexually Transmitted Infections and Viral Hepatitis: WHO Report Highlights Urgent Health Threats

The report also highlights the escalating incidence of four curable sexually transmitted infections: syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, which collectively account for over 1 million infections daily. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation, with a notable increase in adult and maternal syphilis cases and associated congenital syphilis. Additionally, the emergence of multi-resistant gonorrhea poses a significant public health threat, with several countries reporting elevated levels of resistance to ceftriaxone, the last-line treatment for gonorrhea.

In parallel, the report highlights concerning trends in viral hepatitis, with approximately 1.2 million new hepatitis B cases and nearly 1 million new hepatitis C cases recorded in 2022. Despite the availability of effective prevention, diagnosis, and treatment tools, the number of deaths from viral hepatitis has risen from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Successes in Eliminating Mother-to-Child HIV/Syphilis, Urgent Need for Sustainable Health Plans

Efforts to combat these epidemics have yielded notable successes, with 19 countries validated for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis. Moreover, countries like Botswana and Namibia are making significant strides towards eliminating HIV, with Namibia being the first country to submit a dossier for the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis.

However, the report emphasizes the urgent need for sustainability planning across the three disease areas. It calls on countries to strengthen cross-cutting investment cases and national-level sustainability plans, consolidate disease-specific guidance within a primary healthcare approach, and address ongoing criminalization, stigma, and discrimination within health settings.

While progress has been made, the report underscores the importance of political will and commitment to accelerate efforts and achieve global targets. With many indicators remaining off-track, urgent action is needed to drive progress and mitigate the devastating impact of these epidemics on global health.

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Resource: World Health Organization, May 21, 2024

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