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Changes to Chlamydia screening programme ‘big step backwards’

Campaigners say that changes to the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP) will be a disaster for women’s health and even worse for gay and bisexual men.

Public Health England has announced that the programme is changing from prevention and control to focus on reducing the harms from untreated chlamydia infection by primarily screening women and girls.

In practice, this means that chlamydia screening in community settings, such as GPs and pharmacies, will only be proactively offered to young women.

The Terrence Higgins Trust warns that this will place the burden of responsibility on women and girls. And will negatively impact gay and bisexual men, who already experience an increasing burden of chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections.

Debbie Laycock, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘The decision to only test women and girls for chlamydia is a disaster for women’s health, even worse for gay and bisexual men, and turns the clock back 20 years on our approach to sexual health.

‘This change of approach in chlamydia screening to only focus on reducing the harms of untreated chlamydia is a big step backwards and will have a detrimental impact on the sexual health of all young people.

‘We’re supportive of ongoing efforts to diagnose chlamydia early and reduce the harms of untreated chlamydia, but as part of a programme which has the primary aim to detect and treat the infection as early as possible.

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‘The changes will mean chlamydia is no longer a shared responsibility between women and men, but render it a ‘woman’s issue’.

‘It’ll detrimentally put the burden to tackle chlamydia on women and result in the removal of responsibility for men. It wrongly adds to the idea that women are solely responsible for sexual and reproductive health.

‘There’ll also be a significant impact on gay and bisexual men who will have fewer opportunities to screen for chlamydia – despite a 61% increase in chlamydia diagnoses in this group between 2014 and 2018.

‘Gay and bisexual men are already disproportionately burdened by STIs and this move will do nothing to improve that situation.

‘The NCSP is many people’s introduction to sexual health information and screening, and that’ll be lost through this change of approach. Today is yet another blow for efforts to tackle STIs in England.

‘The government continues to severely underfund vital local council sexual health services and we still await a national sexual health strategy over a year since it was promised.

‘Today’s announcement shows how little ambition there is for improving the nation’s sexual health as we resort to damage limitation. We strongly believe this decision should be reversed including a refocusing on how to utilise social media and new technology to properly reach more young people.’

Up until now, the NCSP has focused on:

  • Preventing and controlling chlamydia through early detection and treatment of asymptomatic infection.
  • Reducing onward transmission to sexual partners.
  • Preventing the consequences of untreated infection.
  • Ensuring all sexually active under 25 year olds are informed about chlamydia, and have access to sexual health services that can reduce risk of infection or transmission.
  • Normalising the idea of regular chlamydia screening among young adults so they expect to be screened annually or when they change partner.

Photo Credit – CDC

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