Let’s talk about Sex...ually Transmitted Infections
Lynn Eagle, The Unmentionables' Sexpert
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) are some of the most common communicable diseases in the world. Gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis have steadily increased over the past 10 years. Some countries have even declared official outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea due to the high rates.
When you add chaos, dissolution of family and society, poverty, vulnerability, and conflict migration- the rate of STI’s only skyrocket. Incidences of rape, sex trafficking, as well as lack of medical services and education play key roles in the spread of STI’s in refugee camps.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than one million STIs are spread every day. Each year, there are an estimated 357 million new infections of the four main STI’s- gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and trichomonas. Don’t even get me started on the rates of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
STIs have serious consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself. They increase risk of cervical cancer from HPV infection, pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Additionally, mother-to-child transmission of STIs can result in stillbirth, neonatal death, low-birth-weight and prematurity, sepsis, pneumonia, neonatal conjunctivitis, and congenital deformities. Many issues hinder dissemination of sexual and reproductive health information in crisis situations.
So What Can We Do About It?
Condoms are the surest way to help affected populations. Condoms are cheap, easy to use, and provide protection against both STIs and unwanted pregnancies. It is essential that condoms are free and readily available to both men and women who seek them -but condoms alone are not going to solve the problem. A culturally-sensitive approach is imperative for successful uptake of condom use. Condom provision must be accompanied by campaigns reflecting effectiveness in preventing STIs, correct usage, and where to obtain them.
Sexual health education and counselling is our most important tool for the primary prevention against STIs. Education will empower men and women to make informed choices on risks and behaviors. Counselling can improve people’s ability to recognize the symptoms of STIs and increase the likelihood that they will seek care or encourage a sexual partner to do so. A comprehensive, culturally-appropriate and targeted approach to education has been shown to reduce unsafe sex practices and, ultimately, infection.
Unfortunately, STI education is not as easy as it may seem. Lack of public awareness, lack of training of health workers, limited resources, cultural barriers and long-standing, widespread stigma around STIs remain roadblocks in providing the care and education required.
Thankfully, a set of standards does exist for serving worldwide refugee camps and temporary shelters. The Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for reproductive health is a coordinated set of priority activities designed to prevent and manage the consequences of sexual violence, reduce HIV transmission, prevent excess maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality, and plan for comprehensive health services. The minimum standards (MISP) instituted by the UNFPA need to be advocated for and upheld in emergency situations.
Lynn Eagle earned her B.S. in Nursing and Masters of Global Heath, along with numerous sexual health certifications. For eight years, she has taught, evaluated, and promoted sexual and reproductive health. She's passionate about destroying taboos and opening dialogue around sexual health. Lynn is also a travel junkie and a yoga enthusiast.