The U.S. decreased federal funding for sexually transmitted diseases by 40 percent in the last four years, during which time STD rates have skyrocketed to record highs.
According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control, cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis rose by 200,000 cases between 2016 and 2017 to about 2.29 million cases. The rates coincide with deep cuts to both sex education and programs that help treat and detect STDs.
David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, called on President Donald Trump Tuesday to declare a public health emergency over the rise of STDs, which experts are blaming on the U.S.’s declining public health infrastructure and funding.
“It is time that President Trump and [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Alex] Azar declare STDs in America a public health crisis,” Harvey said on a press call on Tuesday. “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.”
The purchasing power of federal STD funding has diminished by 40 percent since 2003, according to experts on the call, creating a ripple effect across the country. In 2012, for example, 52 percent of state and local programs experienced budget cuts that amounted to shorter clinic hours and less STD screenings, according to the CDC.
“We are sliding backward,” Jonathan Mermin, the director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a press release. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.”
Given the current STD rates, Harvey estimated at least $70 million is needed in immediate federal funds, with an additional $270 million in 2019.
“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.”
And it’s clear that prevention is needed. Over the past four years, syphilis cases increased by 76 percent, gonorrhea by 67 percent, and, while chlamydia didn’t show any huge increases, it remained at a record high.
"You don't need a medical degree to prevent an STD," Fraser said. "You need to talk to people about using condoms."
Cover image: A billboard from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is seen on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California, on May 29, 2018 warning of a drug-resistant gonorrhea. Frederic J. BROWN / AFP.