Melanie McDonagh

Lockdown could be the perfect time to eradicate STIs

Lockdown could be the perfect time to eradicate STIs
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As we can see from the reaction to the PM’s speech, there are several ways of looking at the lockdown. Some people can’t wait to get back to business. Lots are frankly nervous at this sort of talk. And there are those, like my friend the clap consultant, who see it as an opportunity.

Let me explain. My friend is a consultant in sexually transmitted diseases whose special subject is HIV and associated conditions. Viruses being his home turf, he takes a dim view of Covid-19. It’s an awful thing, he observes. ‘It’s racist, sexist, ageist. You wouldn’t have it to dinner.’

However, it does provide a God-given opportunity (if that’s the right phrase) to keep people isolated for long enough to test them for sexually transmitted diseases while they’re sexually and socially isolating. While they’re at home, they’re not spreading herpes or genital warts. More to the point, they can get tested and, with luck, treated before they get back to business as usual. And the particular target group, he says, should be men who have sex with men, without necessarily identifying as gay.

People who are on the radar of sexual health clinics could be contacted relatively easily, though the communication would, for obvious reasons, have to be discreet. It’s actually quite easy to send a test through the post – in London they offer free home testing already, following an online consultation. You can get the results by text or email, which would probably save embarrassment if other members of the family, stuck at home, are monitoring the post. And if, by dint of targeted testing, the NHS can help ensure that a significant number of Brits return to social life free of sexual infections, as well as Covid-19, the lockdown time will have been – sort of – well spent. (Personally, I’d be inclined to add a stern note about the dangers of promiscuity with every test kit, on the grounds that prevention is better than cure.)

But a drive to test for clap as well as Covid would have to be done quickly, while lockdown is still in place. Social distancing is protecting Brits from more than coronavirus but the minute it’s over I’m afraid it’ll be back to business as usual.

You could argue that the NHS has got quite enough to be getting on with just now without diverting resources to the promiscuous, but believe it or not, normal healthcare still needs to be maintained even during a pandemic. View it as an economic measure; if sexual infections are identified and treated now while people are at home, it’ll save on treatments for them and their associates later. You know that R rate we keep talking about? It can be usefully applied to other things besides Covid-19.

PS The total number of sexually transmitted infections recorded in England alone in 2018 was 447,694, much of it attributable to chlamydia, which affects boys as well as girls. But the old stalwarts, syphilis and gonorrhoea (up by more than a quarter since 2014) are still on the increase. Some things change less than you’d like to think.