What percentage of STI infections are among young people between 16 and 24? 8 years represents approximately 10% of our lives, so maybe you think a figure round about a tenth is most likely, or maybe you’re thinking something double that, say 20%, would be more accurate as it reflects the increased sexual activity young perople have (or, at least are seen to have). Well, actually you’d be way out if you thought either of these. The actual number of new STIs in that 8 year age group is over 50%, much more than many of us might expect. Of particular concern is the increasing number of young people with Chlamydia, which has increased dramatically over the last decade . In total in the UK there are an estimated 186,000 new cases in 2011, 117,000 of those in the 16-24 age group. Young people are substantially more likely to get an STI than any other age group and so it is clear that there is a need for prevention work targeted at this age group.
Stats such as those above suggest that many young people are not aware of the prevalence of STIs and how they can protect themselves against STIs. For this reason one of our partner agencies, The Metro Centre, has started the ‘Getit’ campaign which targets young people specifically through outreach work in youth clubs, schools, sports sites and other locations popular with the 16-24 age group. The campaign is helping to ensure young people in Wandsworth have the necessary knowledge and skills to practise safe sexual behaviour and reduce STI transmission and have access to free condoms. Similarly, West London Gay Men’s Project recognise the importance of working with young people to reduce STI infections, perhaps best highlighted in their innovative online outreach support programme. Young LGBT people use the internet more than their older peers, especially for hooking up, and so the importance of such projects cannot be overstated. In the US the GYT campaign, promoted on MTV through the IYSL (It’s your sex life) is a good example of HIV and STI prevention work targeted specifically at young people. The tag line of the campaign is ‘Know yourself, know your status, get yourself tested’ and it works to increased knowledge and testing of HIV and STIs amongst young people through using material such as TV adverts and posters, such as the one below:
Why is the increasing number of STIs amongst young people such a concern? Well, why some STIs may be harmless and many are easily treatable, some are not. Some STIs, for example, are becoming increasingly resistant to current treatment. Gonorrhoea is becoming particularly difficult to treat with current antibiotics and treatment options for the future are uncertain. Also some STIs have undesirable side effects such as infertility or even potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, which young people are often not aware of. Another, not especially well known, side effect of having an STI is the increased risk of contracting HIV. In fact, the risk is estimated to be between two and five times greater! For this reason STI management is an essential part of HIV prevention, including projects working with young people. While GMI’s key focus is on HIV prevention, each of our strands concentrates on STI management too – for example increasing awareness and promoting STI avoidance and testing. For example, the GMI mentoring programme, which is most popular among young gay men in their 20s and 30s, works with mentors specifically trained around STIs and uses modules focused on STI knowledge, testing and understanding as well as HIV. This holistic approach to HIV prevention is mirrored in our counselling and health trainer programmes. What is clear from the stats around STIs in the 16-24 age group is the effectiveness of current integrated HIV and STI prevention projects and the need for more similar work if the disproportionately high number of new cases in this category are to be reduced. This approach is vital to improve the sexual wellbeing of young people in the UK and elsewhere.
If you would like information on where to get a free sexual health check up in London please check GMFA’s website here
GMI Partnership provide free, non-judgementral seuxal health services to gay and bisexual men in London. For more information please see our website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org . The views are those of the author and do not necesasarily represent GMI.