Syphilis on the rise in NZ

Cases of syphilis are increasing in Auckland. You read that right, syphilis!  RNZ reported today that rates of syphilis have increased by 71 percent (between 2013-2015). We have known about the increase in syphilis figures for a while, but nothing seems to have been done about it. Staggeringly, in Auckland where rates are highest, the DHB is under so much funding pressure that they are considering cuts to the Auckland Regional Sexual Health Service. 

Clearly, our health system needs to have the tools to respond to these STIs, and that includes proper funding so DHBs are not put in the position of having to cut sexual health services when STIs are booming.

We have doctors saying that they never used to see syphilis cases, and now they are on a regular basis. These diseases aren’t just unpleasant, they have severe complications such as the risk of developing neurological conditions, and syphilis infections for women and congenital syphilis for their children.

People with STIs need to have confidence that our health services are well-equipped to diagnose and treat the condition as well as to assist with notifications of partners. Right now, that simply isn’t the case. We need more testing of people at risk, and to immediately treat and support people. Populations that are vulnerable to syphilis need health services that actually support them, that understand how to communicate. Young people, gay and bisexual males, and transexuals need targeted support from our health system to protect them.

Cutting costs through lack of access and lack of treatment for vulnerable patients is incredibly shortsighted, and the costs will come back to haunt this Government. We need to stop these infections, and that happens by resourcing the sector to do what they do best. Primary care services like GPs are already overstretched and are going to have to pick up the pieces of having more people with STIs showing up and not being able to get the help that they need.

This is 2016. It is inconceivable that New Zealand should be battling sexual health outbreaks. The National Government is failing our vulnerable young people, leaving them with a last-century health problem. While we wait to change the Government and properly fund our sexual health system, I urge you to please have safe sex and use protection.

You can read the full figures. There is seasonal variation in STI rates, so bear that in mind as well. In Jan-Dec 2014, there were 85 cases of infectious syphilis in the three Auckland DHBs. In Jan-Dec 2015 there were 143 cases. In the last 12 months, there have been 191 cases.