Public health experts on Tuesday called for President Donald Trump to declare a public health emergency in the explosive rise of sexually transmitted diseases, which have increased nationally for four years in a row. Cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rose by 200,000 between 2016 and 2017 alone, to a total of 2.29 million, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. has the highest STD rates in the industrialized world, said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, on a media conference call Tuesday. The current crisis preys on the most vulnerable in the population, he said, and costs the U.S. $16 billion in preventable health care costs a year.
Public health experts on the call blamed the skyrocketing STD rates on a serious decline in public health infrastructure and funding. The purchasing power of federal STD funding has diminished by 40 percent since 2003, they said.
“It is time that President Trump and [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Alex] Azar declare STDs in America a public health crisis,” Harvey said. “What goes along with that is emergency access to public health funding to make a dent in STD rates and to bring these rates down and make sure all Americans get access to the health care they need.”
Harvey estimated that $70 million in federal funding is needed immediately to fight the growing threat and that $270 million is needed for fiscal year 2019.
Since 2013, syphilis cases in the U.S. have increased by 76 percent, gonorrhea cases have increased by 67 percent and chlamydia cases have remained at record highs.
“We shouldn’t be all that surprised by these increases when we look at the decreases in public health funding,” said Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “We know what works for STD prevention. We just don’t necessarily want to pay for it.”
Among the problems, the experts pointed to crumbling public health infrastructure, a widespread lack of awareness and education about STDs, the failure of doctors to screen or test for STDs, and the failure of patients to ask for such tests. There is a correlation with the opioid crisis and other drug use, the experts said, citing data that those aged 15 to 24 who reported drug use were more likely to be diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis.
The experts also noted the emergence of drug-resistant gonorrhea strains, warning that without new treatments, a strain of gonorrhea could eventually develop that the medical community couldn’t treat.
“After decades in progress against STDs, we’re sliding backwards,” said Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, who described the current rates as “skyrocketing.”
“STDs are widespread in the U.S.,” said Bolan. “They really cross urban and rural boundaries. They cross socioeconomic boundaries.”