STI Infection Rates Soar in Zimbabwe, Despite Record Condom Distribution
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) remain a significant public health concern in Zimbabwe, with the total number of cases increasing by 15 827 in 2022 compared to 2021. This excludes HIV, which is the most dreaded STI infection and had about 23 000 new cases during the same period. STIs have a direct impact on sexual and reproductive health, leading to stigmatisation, infertility, cancers, pregnancy complications, and an increased risk of HIV.
The Chronicle reports that the Ministry of Health and Child Care has reported that genital ulcers went up by 22 percent, urethral discharge cases went up by nine percent, while vaginal discharge cases went up by two percent.
“Please note the increase in vaginal discharge (VD), Urethral Discharges (UDS), and Genital Ulcer cases in 2022 compared to 2021. Trends for VDS and UDS are increasing, while other syndromes show a slight decrease. Some STIs show symptoms, while others are asymptomatic, so the individual can pass infection unknowingly,” said the ministry.
STI Symptoms and Transmission
There are more than 30 different bacteria, viruses, and parasites known to be transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Some STIs can also be transmitted from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Of these, four are curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, while the other four are incurable viral infections: hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Women who experience unusual vaginal discharge are encouraged to seek medical attention as this may be an onset of an STI. Discharge with itching, redness, swelling, pelvic pain, blood, or a strong smell may indicate an STI, like trich, chlamydia, or gonorrhoea.
Condoms as Prevention
Condoms provide a critical support base for all HIV prevention interventions, and the ministry encourages the use of condoms as dual protection. In 2021, 108 million male condoms and 3 404 502 million female condoms were distributed in Zimbabwe. In 2022, the figure for STI infections went up to 119 595 390 million and 1 562 580 respectively. Although the use of male condoms in Zimbabwe remains one of the highest in the region, the uptake of female condoms remains low, constituting less than three percent of the total distributed figure.
The ministry added that the Blue-Gold condom public sector condom was launched in 2021 and is available at all public health facilities for free while the FC2 condom is also available at all public health facilities for free. Female condoms are also available in different scents and colours comparable to male condoms. The country is making efforts to ensure that every sex act is protected by ensuring that every population segment that requires condoms is provided for through a total market approach.
Zimbabwe STI Positivity Rates Remain High Despite Condom Distribution
Despite the high number of condoms distributed in Zimbabwe, the STI positivity rate remains of concern, especially in key populations. The HIV positivity rate for male sex workers stands at 16,4 percent, and for female sex workers, it is 8,45 percent. For men who have sex with men, the positivity rate stands at 8,99 percent, while prisoners have a positivity rate of 8,78 percent for males and 11,9 percent for females.
It is crucial to take measures to protect oneself from STIs, such as using condoms and regular ST