The sexually transmitted diseases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have all become more common leading up to 2016, the last year numbers are available. The Centers for Disease Control reported last week 1.6 million cases of chlamydia, 470,000 new cases of gonorrhea, and around 28,000 syphilis diagnoses.
Simply put, according to the CDC’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, rates of chlamydia have jumped by 4.7 percent, with reports increasing in all regions of the country. Rates of gonorrhea, which dropped to an all-time low in 2009, have increased by over 18 percent from 2015. Syphilis hit an historic low in 2000, and it too has increased steadily ever since.
Rates saw a 17.6 percent increase from 2015 to 2016, rising in both men and women across all regions. Syphilis infection rates in women rose by nearly 36 percent in 2016 — more than double the increase seen in men.
Yes, the CDC’s report is troubling, but not for the reasons you might think.
The question is why. Some might immediately think that Americans are really bad at talking about sex. On the whole, we are. But even worse we’re bad at talking about sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Further, as recently as 2013, half of all patients visiting STD clinics were unwilling to use their health insurance to cover the cost of their visit — likely because of privacy concerns, researchers have concluded.
Add in that the U.S. budget for “Abstinence Only Until Marriage” sex education in schools — which has been shown time and time again to be ineffective in combating both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections — in 2016 was increased to $85 million per year, according to the AP.
In fact, the average high school health course includes less than four hours spent talking about all Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and pregnancy prevention combined, and 87 percent allow guardians to exclude their children from this coursework.
It’s not surprising to hear that rates of these infections are going up, instead of down. And given the lack of education and debate on these health issues, it would make sense for many Americans to interpret the findings of the CDC report as the result of some sort of moral decline.
But according to medical professionals, the problem isn’t that people are having more sex — the problem is that health care, and the policies that pay for it, are in dire shape.
The Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama, provided patient protection and access. However, unlike its name (affordable) the ADA did not rein in or reform the costs of health care. That is what Congress is wrestling with, while trying to keep access open.
Still, when we see the rate of diseases skyrocketing — such as sexually transmitted diseases — what we’re doing about it is not working.
The good news is most of the STDs that have increased are bacterial, treatable with a shot or medication. The bad news is that only generally works, with over-prescribing of antibiotics and bacterial strains becoming resistant to those treatments preventing easy fixes. The World Health Organization reports that across 77 countries gonorrhea, for instance, is increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
So while Nero (Congress and the political parties) fiddles over what parts of health care to reform and the votes they need, Rome (Americans’ health) is burning.
To echo what Sen. John McCain said: the U.S. desperately needs a bipartisan health-care solution — and we need it yesterday.
Add in better education and protection, and STDs could become a worry of the past.