Cancer cases, STIs, infertility in young adults linked to unsafe sex

National Aids Control Council Director Dr. Ruth Masha, addressing Health stakeholders during a consultative meeting on condoms and elimination of Mother to Child transmission of HIV and syphilis held in Nairobi on Wednesday, 17th, November, 2021. [Samson Wire. Standard]

The Ministry of Health has raised an alarm over increased cases of sexually transmitted infections and infertility in adolescents and young adults.

According to data by the National Syndemic Disease Control Council (NSDCC), the cases are attributed to unprotected sex.

Data by NSDCC reveals that in 2023 alone, at least 309,419 cases of STIs were attended to in healthcare centres across the country.

A number of cases were also undiagnosed and untreated.

Among the sexually transmitted infections reported include Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), gonorrhea and chlamydia, which have long-term effects if untreated.

NSDCC Chief Executive Officer Ruth Masha said chlamydia is a major concern as it causes infertility.

“Apart from HIV transmission, the other challenge we are facing as a ministry is the number of young people getting STIs, in particular chlamydia, which is a silent pandemic,” she said.

In an earlier report presented during a conference held in Nairobi in February, Prof Nelly Mugo, Director of Research and Development Education at Kemri, said it is worrying that exposing young girls to early sex exposes them to acquiring chlamydia.

Chlamydia, she said, is not much talked about, yet it is a disease that silently causes infertility.

“We are reporting the chlamydia pandemic. When we do our data, and we collect samples from a cohort, we find that at least 20 per cent of young women have chlamydia,” said the researcher.

In one of the studies done by Kemri, she said scientists started with girls who had never had sex, and after sex, chlamydia went up.

“Chlamydia causes infertility. A lot of sex in young people is unplanned, and they therefore do not use condoms.”

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria known as chlamydia trachomatis.

According to studies, the bacteria affects the cervix, goes up to the fallopian tubes and causes permanent damage, which is an important cause of infertility due to tubal block (or tubal damage), because of the inflammatory process.

Damage to the lining of the fallopian tubes (endosalplnx), makes it impossible to have the transportation of eggs for the fertilisation process. Blocked tubes can also damage the fimbria, which helps in taking up the egg because fertilisation occurs in the fallopian tubes.

Although Kenya has made significant gains in reducing HIV/AIDS transmission and deaths, the official said, there is a trend of increased STIs. 

“As HIV is reducing, sexually transmitted diseases are going to increase, then people get wounds in their private parts, they increase their chances of getting HIV,” said Dr Masha during sensitisation programme at the just ended WRC Safari Rally in Naivasha.

The Ministry of Health, in partnership with NSDCC and other stakeholders, had erected six medical camps at the rally site, to sensitise the public on STIs.

“We are trying to say, young people, this is not a joke, it is something we can work together. Let us have fun, but now we are responsible for our lives.”

Data notes that though Kenya has made sufficient progress in the war against HIV, the progress is threatened by the number of young people being infected with HIV.

More than 75 per cent of new infections, representing about 22,000 cases, is among young people aged between 18 and 34.

Kenya has the seventh burden of HIV globally, with 1.4 million people living with the condition.

New HIV infections reduced by 78.2 per cent (101,448) in 2013, to 22, 154 in 2023.

At least 75 per cent of new infections occur among adolescents and young adults aged  15 to 34 years, according to 2022 data.

“We want to ensure young people are having fun, but in a responsible manner. We have been providing services and giving condoms to those who are sexually active,” she added.

Masha added that majority of young people do not know that unprotected sex puts them at risk of cervical cancer when they acquire HPV.

“We are educating them that it is not only pregnancy, or HIV, but other diseases that come with unprotected sex,” said Masha.

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