On any given day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 5 people in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection (STI). These preventable conditions are responsible for billions of dollars in medical costs and thousands of deaths. Notably, rates of three curable infections – syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia – have risen steadily over the past decade.
In a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections in the United States, top researchers on a committee chaired by Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten H. Vermund have generated a series of recommendations aimed at reversing the trend.
Their findings suggest that STIs can be best addressed through a multilayered approach that focuses on social and structural determinants of health, including racism, discrimination and poverty. By recommending a shift in government funding toward new and existing STI prevention programs, the committee also provides policy guidance and a framework for action to reverse these rising trends.
“The committee’s recommended changes are challenging; yet, it is possible to reduce the impact of STIs on society and take the bold actions recommended in this report to prevent and control STIs in the immediate future and long term,” the report states. “In turn, this can create a positive and comprehensive sexual health platform so the United States can return to the ultimate task of planning for the elimination of these serious health threats.”
The committee was charged with investigating new ways to tackle growing STI rates by the CDC through the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The 17-member committee held numerous listening sessions, workshops and, in 2020, virtual meetings to hone their recommendations. The result is a report focused on how the United States might reduce STIs.
Their recommendations range from rethinking training curricula for U.S. health professionals to establishing new payment and coverage options for priority populations. The committee additionally found that the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention could more aggressively combat STI infections by modernizing disease surveillance activities, improving treatment guidelines and establishing new funding requirements for local health departments.
These points are especially timely, the committee felt, because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s burden on public health. The committee stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in public health preparedness due to weak infrastructure, an under capacitated and under resourced workforce, and limited surge capacity,” the committee wrote. “Because STIs are infectious diseases and the STI workforce has deep expertise of relevance to pandemic responses, strengthening STI infrastructure and expanding its workforce offers the dual benefits of achieving stronger STI control and better positions the nation for future public health threats.”
Along with the YSPH, committee members included researchers and policy experts at the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Miami, NYU, Tufts, Tulane, Washington State, UAB, UCI, UCSF, UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Puerto Rico, University of Southern California, Rietmeijer Consulting, and Kaiser Family Foundation.