Barbados has recorded a “surprising increase” in syphilis cases and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), mostly among the male population, according to the senior medical officer of health Dr Anton Best.
“The preliminary analysis that we did two years ago and that we have done recently have indicated and confirmed that there is a definite increase in syphilis cases that started around 2011,” Dr Best told Barbados TODAY following the launch of the 2013 – 2014 Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Sexual Practice (KABP) Survey, launched yesterday.
“We recognized in the last few years that our numbers of syphilis have started to increase and that started about three years ago. We don’t have the final numbers as yet [but] it does seem though that the majority of the new cases of syphilis are amongst men.”
He revealed that while the numbers were still being crunched “a lot of investigative work and intense surveillance,” continued in order to determine the magnitude of the problem.
However, whatever the final count might be, the rise appears to have taken health authorities by surprise.
“It is a surprising increase. I am not at liberty to say what preliminary numbers we have because we haven’t finished analyzing the data as yet.
“We thought that we would have finished about a year ago but it is really intensive work. We are doing what is called case-based reporting, so we take every single case and then we take it, we have to answer a series of questions not only the demographic questions but what is the treatment outcome,” he explained.
He disclosed that the ministry continued to conduct surveillance for some other common sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, which a previous study had found was prevalent among young adults between the ages of 15 and 29.
“What the Ministry of Health has been doing over the last six years or so is looking at the total number of chlamydia cases out of all of those persons that we test for chlamydia and the same for gonorrhea and then the proportion of persons who are positive for chlamydia is about 12 or 13 per cent and for gonorrhea its about two per cent which is equivalent to the prevalence study that was done some [seven] years ago,” he said.
Dr Best warned that these diseases “are not going anywhere anytime soon” and encouraged behavioural change among Barbadians.
“We have still relatively high rates of HIV and then we have relatively high rates of STIs. The more that people are aware of this, what we are hoping is that awareness and that level of education that they have changes in behavior and most important the change of behavior that we are hoping for is for people to get screened . . . for STIs and to be treated. We can interrupt transmission of infectious diseases once people are diagnosed and treated.”
The senior medical expert said while “we haven’t done anything recently” to raise awareness of STIs, his department was planning a new education campaign.
“. . . that is something that we are looking to reactivate to get more people aware of STIs in Barbados; to get more people screened, tested, letting them know where they can access services whether it is the polyclinics system or whether it is at
their private doctor, to get screened for STI’s,” he said.