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Chlamydia: why we must test men too

The growing epidemic of chlamydia in men could have dire consequences for the nation's health according to a report published by the MHF today.

The report on men and chlamydia, 'Putting Men to the Test,' shows that the Government is not testing enough young men for the disease, which is contributing to a cycle of re-infection of women. (Both the report and the summary are avilable to download below.)

Figures to be published by the Health Protection Agency this week show that the rate of chlamydia infection continues to rise alarmingly. More than 100,000 people were diagnosed with chlamydia last year, an increase of almost 250% over the past 10 years. Untreated chlamydia in women can lead to severe conditions including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. It has been estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 people need IVF treatment each year because of problems caused by chlamydia.

Significantly, the number of men diagnosed with chlamydia is increasing rapidly. Indeed, the number of heterosexual men diagnosed with chlamydia increased by 13% between 2003 and 2004 alone.

Even though the number of young men with chlamydia is almost the same as the number of young women, of the people tested in 2004/05 by the NHS's Chlamydia Screening Programme, just over one in ten were men. While interim figures show this has increased slightly in the second half of 2006, it is still true that less than 1 in 5 of those screened for chlamydia are men.

The MHF's new report calls for more innovative ways of reaching and testing men for chlamydia and argues that without this the chlamydia epidemic will be impossible to control as men will continue to re-infect women. People can have chlamydia without any visible symptoms. In fact, it is asymptomatic in 70% of women and 50% of men, so it often goes undiagnosed. This means that the screening programme is very important. However, the current settings for chlamydia testing, including GP surgeries and family planning facilities, are predominantly accessed by women. Only very few projects have sought to reach out proactively to men in places such as colleges, factories and prisons.

Peter Baker, Chief Executive of the Men's Health Forum, said: "It is vital that the NHS targets men more effectively when testing people for chlamydia. Both sexes must be encouraged to feel an equal sense of responsibility to prevent the spread of chlamydia. Given that equal numbers of men and women have chlamydia, the screening programme should aim for an equal proportion of tests and treatment to be for each sex."

The report, which was drawn up following consultation with an expert group of sexual health and equality bodies, makes five key recommendations to help address the chlamydia epidemic:

  • A target for screening men — The Department of Health should aim for 50% of National Chlamydia Screening Programme tests to be of men.
  • Entrench best practice — The Health Protection Agency (HPA) should develop a 'men and chlamydia strategy, building on best practice, and the DH should ensure that local chlamydia screening offices follow it.
  • Invest in training — The HPA should educate local screening offices about the importance of screening men.
  • Making the most of pharmacies — Pharmacists should seek out opportunities to work in partnership with chlamydia screening offices. Consideration should be given to how the chlamydia testing kits made available in the Boots pilot project in London are promoted to men.
  • Prioritising sexual health services — A commitment to chlamydia screening for all 15-24 year olds should be included in all Primary Care Trust Local Delivery Plans.

Dr Howard Stoate MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Men's Health, is to chair the launch of the report in Parliament at 5pm on Wednesday July 5.

He said: "It is vital that the Government looks at this issue seriously. Chlamydia is blighting the lives of young people and we need to do something innovative to tackle it quickly. We just can't get hold of this problem unless we find a way of testing and treating more young men for chlamydia. The Government is investing more than £80m in the latest phase of the Chlamydia Screening Programme but it could be wasted if men are not targeted effectively."

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Page created on July 5th, 2006

Page updated on January 29th, 2013