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The BBC's Karen Allen
"Infection rates are soaring"
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All-Party Parliamentary Group on Aids, Neil Gerrard
"It does need to be a wide ranging strategy"
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Public Health Laboratory scientist, Gwenda Hughes
"More people are now practising unsafe sex"
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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Fight steps up on sexual diseases
Young people are thought to be particularly at risk
Young people are thought to be particularly at risk
Plans to test much more widely for sexually transmitted infections have been unveiled by the government.

The long-awaited National Strategy for Sexual Health will also include a major multi-media public education campaign.

Its launch on Friday coincided with the publication of figures showing a big rise in cases of key STIs like syphilis and HIV.

The figures, from the Public Health Laboratory Service, show gonorrhoea is at its highest for over a decade.

We have a major public health problem that we have to face up to

Professor Michael Adler
The government's strategy will include a targeted screening programme for chlamydia - a sexually transmitted disease that can leave women infertile - and more routine testing for HIV/Aids.

But campaigners say the new measures are far too limited.

And the all-party parliamentary group on Aids say this initiative is long overdue.

For four years the Department of Health has wrestled with how to deal with the problem of sexually-transmitted diseases soaring, as the safe sex message of the 1980s is lost - especially among young people.

Unsafe sex

Professor Michael Adler, an STI and HIV expert who helped develop the strategy, said: "We have to be honest and admit that the rising trends of STIs and HIV, associated with the fact that the safer sex messages of the 1980s are no longer being adhered to, mean that we have a major public health problem that we have to face up to."

Dr Gwenda Hughes, of the PHLS, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the increase in the number of sexually transmitted infections was particularly high among teenage women.

"The most likely reason is that more people are practising unsafe sex," said Ms Hughes.

STI rise from 1995 to 1999:
Chlamydia - up 76%
Gonorrhoea - up 55%
Syphilis - up 54%
The PHLS figures for England and Wales show the number of newly-diagnosed gonorrhoea cases rose by 27% from 15,874 in 1999 and to 20,190 in 2000.

Of the 6,223 new cases of gonorrhoea among women, 40% were in the 16-19 age group.

New diagnoses of chlamydia increased from 53,221 in 1999 to 62,565 in 2000 - an 18% rise. The PHLS say part of this rise could be because of increased awareness of the condition.

Despite the rise, that figure could still represent just a tenth of the real number of infections, experts say.

Chlamydia - increases - 1999-2000
Men - 19%
Women - 17%
Men who have sex with men - 36%
Genital warts, caused by the human papillomavirus, are the most common STI, with 64,000 cases in 2000.

And there was a 55% increase in the number of cases of syphilis, notably amongst gay men.

A record 3,425 cases of HIV were reported in the UK last year - a 14% increase on 1999 and the highest figure recorded in any year since testing became widely available 16 years ago.


Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, which campaigns in support of family values, told the Today programme the safer sex message was not working: "We should have the courage to encourage virtue."

Gonorrhoea increases - 1999-2000
Men - 29%
Women - 24%
Men who have sex with men - 45%
Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association said preaching abstinence was not the answer. "We need to look at how people live their lives. I don't think there was some golden age of relationships.

"Certain aspects have changed and we need to have a modern strategy that meets the needs of people today."

Among the government's plans are:

  • extension of screening for chlamydia and HIV

  • launch of a major television and newspaper advertising campaign warning of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies

  • reducing new HIV infections by a quarter in six years

Last month, figures from the PHLS showed the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the UK had reached an all-time high.

In 2000, there were 3,435 new cases, a 14% increase on the previous year's figures.

The figure was the highest in one year since testing became widely available in 1985.

It is believed around 30,000 people are living with HIV in the UK - 10,000 of whom are unaware they are infected.

Derek Bodell, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said the strategy was too limited in its scope.

"It fails to look at the broader social impact of HIV such as employment, education in school and housing."

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See also:

27 Jul 01 | Health
'You are HIV positive'
01 Jun 01 | Health
UK HIV cases 'at all-time high'
07 Dec 00 | Health
Sex diseases on the increase
12 Apr 00 | Health
Safe sex message 'lost'
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