All You Need to Know About STDs in Africa

STDs or Sexually Transmitted Diseases are a serious burden for the overall health of many people in Africa. These diseases not only do they affect health, but they also have economic and social consequences. Based on statistics from 2018, more than 20.6 million people in the south and eastern African region have HIV.

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Read More: HIV and AIDS

However, the problem doesn’t solely include AIDS or HIV; in fact, it includes HCV, HPV, syphilis, gonorrhea, HBV, and more. The core of the problem begins with the poor knowledge and awareness of Africans regarding STIs. Based on statistics from 35 different countries across Africa, only 66.8% use condoms, and just 42.5% believe it is possible to get HBV from intercourse.

Read More: Gonorrhea in Ghana

Read More: Syphilis in Ghana

Read More: Genital Herps (HSV) in Ghana

Read More: Chlamydia in Ghana

Most people in Africa hide their STIs because they consider it to be disgraceful. This is a cultural phenomenon that has put a strain on the way people deal with the diseases. Patients are afraid to seek help or address the issue. Research from 2017 shows that 37 million people across the globe live with HIV, while 66% of all cases come from the sub-Saharan African region. That is a total of 5.6 million people. In other words, South Africa has the biggest number of people who live with HIV. 

Even though the economy in Africa boomed in mid-2013, it still remains the poorest continent in the world. In South Africa, the number of people infected with HIV continues to grow, but treatments and other forms of support, like counseling, have increased as well. Despite the scientific progress for treating such diseases, cultural traditions and laws remain a barrier for preventing STIs all across the continent.

Main Focus:

  • The Risk Factors Associated with STDs in Ghana
  • AIDS and STDs in Ghana
  • Genital Herpes Is a Serious Issue
  • Syphilis During Pregnancy
  • Current Challenges and Problems to Overcome

The Risk Factors Associated with STDs in Ghana

Based on statistics, more than a million STIs are transmitted across the globe every single day. Some of these STIs can be treated, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, but others can have serious consequences on the overall health.

In all developing countries in Africa, including Ghana, this is a serious issue, since STIs are the most common bacterial infections that can be transmitted in the area.

The reason why this is so important is that such infections as HIV, for example, can be a serious potential epidemic for the entire continent, research shows. These symptoms in females are easily recognizable like:

  • Discharge
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Painful or trouble urinating
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Blood in the urine

However, in many cases, these symptoms don’t appear often making patients delay their necessary treatment or transmit the disease even more. According to research, if the infections are left untreated, they could make women susceptible to complications during pregnancy. They can cause chronic pain in the pelvic area, infertility, pneumonia, or blindness.

The symptoms in males are a little different, studies show. The most typical symptoms may include:

  • Discharge
  • Narrowed urethra
  • Inflamed testicles
  • Sterility

AIDS and STDs in Ghana

Many infectious diseases, like gonorrhea, were first recorded in Ghana before the European settlers colonized the land. In the southern part of Ghana, syphilis and gonorrhea became a serious problem in the 20s. It took years before the problem dissipated. But, during the late 40s, with the arrival of the troops from World War II and laborers, syphilis and gonorrhea cases only spiked once more.

Based on records, the government didn’t take any necessary precautions to stop the spread of the diseases. As a result, people had to find a different alternative that would help ease the symptoms, and that was sulpha drugs. These were, in fact, illegal drugs only sold on the black market in Ghana.

When the first time AIDS was diagnosed, and cases with trichomonas, gonorrhea, and chlamydia were registered, back in 1986, the government turned their attention towards this serious problem. In 1993, programs were introduced to help control the spread of the disease and raise awareness.

However, due to the lack of funds, people can’t afford to insist on using condoms, which remains a serious issue for the African population.

Genital Herpes Is a Serious Issue

According to statistics, a lot more people in Africa have genital herpes compared to the U.S. Researchers believe that identifying the properties of the viruses widespread in Africa could open the door to new possibilities. Particularly in creating vaccines that could help reduce the rampant infections.

The reason why this is so important is that patients who suffer from genital herpes are more at risk of developing AIDS or HIV. Herpes contains many cells, specifically immune cells, that the HIV infection will target.

Based on the same statistics, 90% of adults in the southern African region have genital herpes compared to the 20% in the U.S. Even though herpes is not something that has recently been discovered, it persists in the African community, often affecting a single person for decades.

For people who never notice these symptoms, the virus could be a silent infiltrator that will slowly disintegrate the health over time. It will make the person prone to more serious infections in the near future.

Read More: Genital Herpes (HSV) Symptoms

Syphilis During Pregnancy

Studies show that Africa has a lack of coverage for treatments and screening for syphilis infections in clinics. The benefits of having such treatments have been well-documented across the years. Statistics show that this particular bacterial infection is accountable for 50% of all stillbirths, particularly in Mwanza.

If this infection is properly treated in the African regions, it can help save many lives. However, it remained an unsolved problem in this continent for a long time. It wasn’t until 1992 that the number of pregnant women screened for syphilis elevated to 100%. Compared to 60% during the previous years, it is a welcome change. Furthermore, 50% of their partners also received proper treatment for syphilis, meaning there are a lot of people who have yet to be treated or screened for syphilis.

Read More: Syphilis Symptoms

Control and Management

According to research, despite the valuable efforts to increase public awareness and knowledge of STIs in Africa, all sexually transmitted diseases remain a huge problem for the general public. These diseases result in numerous deaths, problems with pregnancies, cancer, illness, and more.

In fact, Africa is the number one most affected continent by both STIs and HIV in the world, statistics show. Based on the same statistics, around 14.1 million children have been recorded losing both or one of their parents due to sexually transmitted diseases.

Since 2008, effective and high-quality programs have been implemented. Each of these programs focused on providing treatment for HIV and necessary consultations. The idea was to raise awareness and improve the overall cases in different countries around the continent. Since then, 44% of children and adults are now receiving proper treatment. That is a lot more compared to the 2% coverage patients had in 2003.

The coverage for many is fruitful. Unfortunately, there are many individuals in Africa who have yet to attend programs to control their disease. This is the main problem, and a real challenge for the programs since individuals such as these fail to get tested or receive counseling. Most of these individuals are men.

The increase in the effectiveness of the coverage itself is not enough to diminish the real epidemic across the continent. There is a lot more work to be done to prevent this serious issue. More implementations and findings are necessary if the efforts are to continue.

Due to the lack, or the non-existent infection programs in Africa, it is more difficult to control the epidemic.  But, there is one research, previously mentioned, that shows the effect of the already-implemented programs in this region. Since 1999, syphilis and chlamydia infections have drastically decreased, making these programs beneficial and important.

With all the efforts and available counseling, now 85% of the people in Africa are aware they are HIV positive, and 79% of them now get proper treatment, statistics show.

Current Challenges and Problems to Overcome

All the important advances in research for HIV and STDs have been coming from the data collected in Africa. Many of them are now used on a daily basis in clinics around the world. That makes this continent one of the most important places for studying the effects of the infections. 

But, there are three major problems that slow down further improvements and successful treatments. Those problems include:

  • Inadequate funding
  • Lack of workforce that has been trained to work in this environment
  • Proper infrastructure

Without any of these factors, any further success is seriously impaired. Firstly, infections such as gonorrhea require constant management and monitoring to avoid the spread of the infection. Secondly, all the treatments required and testings necessary cost a lot of money. This can put a huge strain on the currently available funds.

To manage the costs, quick and cheap syphilis tests are now conducted in African regions. Another serious problem that affects the whole effect of the program is discrimination. In many, if not all, African countries, it is impossible for healthcare workers to give any help to patience because of the discriminatory law. Lastly, international partners are crucial in programs such as these. Without partners, the research won’t be able to receive proper funding or take up numerous different strategies.

In this current situation, the HPV vaccine is difficult to afford, which is why many people, particularly women, are at risk of cancer or other diseases. To make the vaccine available for everyone, manufacturers should reduce the cost. After all, these vaccines can save a life.

To make sure that children don’t get the same disease, research shows, it is better to implement the HPV vaccine into typical vaccination schedules for children.

There is also another problem that shouldn’t be overlooked. There are some people in Africa who are more vulnerable to STIs than the rest of the population. These people are sex workers, young women, transgender people, men who have intercourse with men, and those who are imprisoned. While others can still get these infections, the people who meet these specific criteria are more exposed to it, making the infection difficult to control.

Conclusion

For Africa, any sexually transmitted infections are a serious problem. This continent has been the main front for STI research in the last couple of decades resulting in numerous valuable research that could potentially be life-saving.

However, such results can’t be achieved over-night. It requires a series of long-term data, dedication, and collaboration with people and partnerships. In the past, STIs were not that focused on, and people had to rely on illegal methods to obtain medications.

When this research was first introduced, it was able to address only specific issues and focus on counseling. But, as the years progressed and the infections spread, more interventions had to be implemented. Due to the strong scientific evidence, the problem of the STIs is now strongly acknowledged making it a top priority to solve.

The approach to the disease was changed in an effort to bring acceptable care for patients in need. As a result, it was possible to implement interventions that would help control the spread of infections.

To overcome this problem, there are plenty of different steps that should be taken. Some of these steps have begun many years ago, but remain an unsolved issue today. The real problem rests in the multiple factors that halt the progress. Despite having the necessary technology and data for controlling such infections, a lack of funding and cultural restrictions make the problem even more difficult to deal with.

Without a proper vaccine, it is almost impossible to prevent HIV in Africa because of how widespread it is. Since the sexual reproductive health in Africa is considered taboo and irrelevant, it makes it more difficult to share awareness and increase overall knowledge.

Cooperating with partners has made training programs, treatments, counseling, and teaching activities possible. These programs have proved effective.

Reference

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0213224

https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet

https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000097

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7705861

https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sexually-transmitted-infections-(stis)

https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00007435-200811000-00011

https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-019-4035-y

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61729-2/fulltext

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110415083142.htm#targetText=In%20southern%20Africa%2C%20infection%20rates,percent%20in%20the%20United%20States.&targetText=In%20evolutionary%20terms%2C%20the%20herpes%20viruses%20are%20very%20old.

https://sti.bmj.com/content/87/Suppl_2/ii10

http://data.unaids.org/pub/report/2009/jc1700_epi_update_2009_en.pdf

https://sti.bmj.com/content/86/7/488?ijkey=f61101ad7ea4a6d38d38ad09d08ea667c028b5ad&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/sub-saharan-africa/overview

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