As Sexually Transmitted Diseases Continue a 5-Year Surge, So Do Racial Disparities in Infection Rates

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When it comes to sexual health, it’s never been more crucial to know your status on any number of sexually transmitted diseases—including syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea—as the 2018 STD Surveillance Report indicated a five-year surge in rates of infection. But as if that news isn’t disconcerting enough, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) now warns that newly released statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate a disturbing disparity for African Americans, who are being infected at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts.

Using information gleaned from the nation’s nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments, a press release from NACCHO sent to The Root reports the following:

  • In 2018, primary and secondary syphilis rates were “4.7 times greater for black females compared to white females, and 4.8 times greater for black males compared to white males.”
  • In 2018, gonorrhea rates showed “a clear disparity between blacks and whites, with black males rate 8.5 times that of white males and black females rate at 6.9 times that of white females.”
  • The rate of reported chlamydia cases among black females was five times that of white females, while the rate of reported chlamydia cases among black males was 6.8 times that of white males.
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“Reducing health disparities in our minority communities is a prime directive of all local health departments,” said NACCHO Chief of Programs and Services Oscar Alleyne, DrPH, MPH., in a statement. “This includes strong prevention and treatment messaging, as well as the essential work of disease intervention specialists who are on the frontlines of efforts to disrupt the spread of STDs and prevent outbreaks. But as NACCHO’s research has shown, they need more support—current resources are not enough, and local health departments and their partners need more to address these rapidly rising STD rates.”

NACCHO’s release further states that it continues to work closely with the CDC to control those rising rates, including the formation of STI Express Clinics, exploring links between substance abuse and sexual behavior to better identify treatment and prevention options, and better health education, policies and promotion of safe sex practices in communities disproportionately affected by STDs.

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But as NACCHO Board Vice President and Howard University School of Medicine graduate, Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MBA, says in a statement, the reasons for health disparities that affect black communities are nuanced—and not limited to STDs.

“Data highlighting the overrepresentation of sexually transmitted diseases in the African-American population is disappointing, but not shocking.” Dr. Ford said in a statement. “More emphasis must be placed on those issues that present barriers to prevention and care of not only STDs but other chronic diseases, such as poverty and lack of insurance, as well as racism. Until we take a hard look at these factors, we will continue to see the broad inequities in disease prevalence that we are currently observing.”

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Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.