Data is showing that STIs are on the rise: quite prominently among gay and bisexual men but in the general population as well.
With the development of the new NSW STI Strategy, detailed reports will now be released by the Ministry of Health and available twice a year.
Dr Christopher Bourne, Head of the NSW STI Programs Unit and Senior Sexual Health Specialist at Sydney Sexual Health Centre, says one reason for the increasing rates could be due to increased testing.
“A lot of men on the PrEP trial have to attend a service every three months and they have an STI test on each of those visits,” he says.
“So more tests are being done on more gay men than ever before, and we’re detecting lots of infections that may not have been detected previously.
“People might look at the statistics and think oh they’re going through the sky but on the other side of the coin there are a lot more conversations going on in the community because of PrEP that are prompting people to get tested.”
Bourne adds that it’s still incredibly important for gay men, irrespective of whether they’re HIV-positive, negative, on PrEP, or not, to get the recommended amount of tests done each year.
“We need to look at it through the paradigm of test, treat, and prevent,” he says.
“For gay men getting tested should be part of their prevention strategy, much like ACON’s campaign for HIV prevention.”
Associate Director for Policy, Strategy, and Research at ACON, James Gray, says ACON plans to embed greater STI awareness as part of its successful Ending HIV campaign.
“We’ll be including more general sexual health information on the Ending HIV platform, to spread information on STIs” he says.
“We’re also working on a large scale campaign with local health districts and researchers which will come out later this year.”
Gray believes it’s far easier for people to get tested for STIs these days, with sexual health centres helping to streamline the process.
“One of the good things around testing in Australia is that when you go to your GP or testing sites for a HIV test you almost always get tested for other common STIs as well,” he says.
“ACON’s community based testing sites are great but can be geo-limited, so it’s good that sexual health clinics have been changing the way they do things to make it easier.
“You don’t have to wait around, you don’t have to go back to get your results, so it’s easier to make getting tested a routine habit.”
Dr Christopher Bourne says awareness around STIs is critical.
“If we drop through the threshold of less condom use because of PrEP, people have chosen to prevent HIV one way but that doesn’t prevent STIs,” he says.
“So that’s one of the concerns – and it’s not just one infection like HIV.
“We have to continue ensuring and helping men get tested more frequently.”