STI stands for sexually transmitted infections which are generally acquired by sexual contact. The bacteria, viruses or parasites that cause sexually transmitted diseases may pass from person to person in blood, semen or vaginal and other bodily fluids. Many sexually transmitted infections do not have any symptoms and can be passed from person to person unknowingly. This makes education regarding safe-sex practices and what symptoms to look out for should they occur a key factor in preventing STIs and treating them before they develop into more serious conditions. As pharmacists, STIs are some of the most common conditions that you will come across in practice and pharmacies will often provide several essential services in order to improve sexual and reproductive health, particularly towards vulnerable groups - those most likely at risk of catching them. We will be discussing some of the most common sexually transmitted infections and their symptoms, the reasons why there is still an increasing number of young people catching STIs and the services that pharmacies can provide in order to improve education on prevention and treatment.
Some examples of STIs are:
The most common STI in the UK is chlamydia as stated by the NHS. Chlamydia is easily passed on during sexual intercourse and most people don’t experience any symptoms, so they’re unaware that they’re infected. Over the coming years there has been a rise in the number of STI cases in the UK being diagnosed. Doctors and sexual health clinics diagnosed 447,694 new cases of STIs in 2018 which was 5% more cases compared to the previous year.
Lack of public awareness and training about STIs, discomfort with discussing sexual health issues, increasing numbers of young people associated with opioid misuse and adverse childhood experiences (neglect, confinement, household substance abuse) remain as issues faced by young people. To overcome these barriers, prevention can be achieved through sex education programmes (campaigns, access to reliable contraception and services) by informing about abstinence, use of condoms etc. to reduce rates of sexual activity and risk behaviours. The increase in new cases of STIs is due to lack of sexual education across the UK. It is with this lack of education on how to have safe sexual intercourse that increase the frequency of cases of STIs. Another factor is that young people tend to feel uncomfortable talking about these topics as they are quite sensitive and young people may not be ready to discuss such topics hence do not attend such education.
Pharmacists’ potential to support sexual health in young people and adolescents, ranges from providing STI screening and ensuring patients adhere to treatment for the most effective outcomes, to educating more younger generations on signs and types of illnesses. There has been a shift in the involvement of pharmacists towards sexual and reproductive well-being in young people such as offering contraceptives and safe sexual practices in primary care or clinics. According to Oxford Academic, “confirming possible underlying factors leading to this pattern of behaviour, such as perception of less risk of stigma by going to the pharmacy, lower treatment cost at the pharmacy…” [Chin, 2011]. This highlights several advantages of training qualified and newly qualified pharmacists to be knowledgeable in the variety and differentiation of sexually transmitted diseases.
To conclude, we found that STIs are one of the most prominent issues we face in communities, especially as pharmacists. We should pay particular attention to patients who develop symptoms that may resemble STIs and to be confident in approaching them. We acknowledge the difficulties we may encounter while we communicate with these patients but by having empathy towards such patients, and focusing on improving their health rather than stigmatising them we will be able to tackle STIs as a team. We should continue in championing public education of safe-sex practices and the symptoms to look out for to raise the awareness of STIs in the communities.
Written by Mumtaj, Ubaid, Supeedsana, Peony and Alex
Chin.K (2011): sexual/reproductive health and the pharmacist: what is known and what is needed?
Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jphsr/article/2/2/65/6087447
[Accessed on 16th December 2022]
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