New Zealand: Rising STI rate in NZ due to 'failure' of sexual health services

New Zealand's sexual health services are failing our marginal communities, according to an expert in the field who has called for urgent investment to curb the rise in sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Peter Saxton, New Zealand AIDS Foundation Fellow in the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland, told Stuff that "by definition, our country's comprehensive sexual health services aren't adequate."

This has led to significant rises in rates of diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhoea, particularly amongst Maori and Pacific populations and men who had sex with men (MSM).

One of the factors identified for the rise was less "protective" behaviour around HIV due to better treatment for what was once a death sentence, but Saxton said that told only part of the story. "The knee jerk reaction is to point the figure at individuals and blame them for their behaviour and blame them for being complacent," he said. "But we know that that's not true."

Gay and bisexual men, for example, were "much more proactive about getting sexual health checks than their straight peers and are much more likely to use condoms for casual sex than their straight peers." However MSM, who make up just two per cent of the population, contracted a third of reported STIs.

Saxton proposed a four-step plan to address the problem.  "The first three are quite boring but they are the most critical ones and that's why we keep getting this equation wrong." First, he said, New Zealand needs more sexual health physicians, and more free sexual health clinics. "Most DHBs don't have enough - some DHBs don't have any."

Second, we need more contact tracing staff so that when a GP diagnosed an STI there was a person who could take over and find others who may have been exposed by the patient.

The third step "is to improve GP training around sexual health, because a lot of GPs want to do a better job but they don't feel confident and they also don't know how to sensitively ask about a patient's sexuality, for example."

Finally, Saxton proposed "dense social marketing campaigns" to remove stigma around STIs and encourage people to see a doctor if they had symptoms, or thought they might have been exposed. "It's not just about promoting condoms," he stressed.  Read more via Stuff