24 February 2006
South Africans are increasingly aware of the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the need to inform their partners and seek treatment when infected, says the Department of Health.
Speaking in Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said statistics from the SA Health Review and other sources indicate that South Africans have become better at notifying their partners when they became infected and seeking treatment together.
The notification rate had doubled from around 39% in 2000 to 83% in 2004, the minister said, while the percentage of patients whose partners were subsequently treated had increased from around 15% in 2000 to 24% in 2004.
“This indicates that we are moving in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Tshabalala-Msimang said. “We are going to push harder and ensure that both partners ultimately visit our health facilities for treatment.”
The prevalence of STIs such as syphilis is also on the decline. In 1999, the Department of Health recorded a rate of 7.3% for syphilis infection among pregnant mothers attending public sector antenatal clinics. By 2004, this figure had dropped to 1.6%.
“This is a very significant drop in the prevalence rate of this particular STI and it is an indication that our public health awareness campaigns and treatment interventions are becoming effective,” Tshabalala-Msimang said.
The minister was speaking at an event to mark the end of national STIs and Condom Week. The week featured community events, TV adverts and radio campaigns to highlight the importance of preventing and treating sexually transmitted infections and promoting the use of condoms.
STIs increase the risk of HIV infection and some may lead to infertility, particularly among women.
The minister also noted that the distribution of free male and female condoms approved by the South African Bureau of Standards for quality was increasing.
“We realised that people found the packaging for the previous public sector condoms unappealing,” Tshabalala-Msimang said. “We redesigned these condoms to a funky blue-and-yellow Choice brand, and distribution has been increasing ever since, rising from 150-million in 1997 to more than 300-million last year.
“Female condom distribution also rose, from 1.3-million in 2003 to 2.6-million in 2004.”
She said the government would continue to campaign for the prevention and management of STIs, abstinence, faithfulness to one partner and consistent condom use.