Doctors urge Government to respond to national syphilis outbreak

Long Lunch 19/07/2018
Photo credit: Getty.

The Government is being urged to respond to a syphilis outbreak making its way across New Zealand.

Doctors from The Royal Australasian College of Physicians have written to Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter to ask the Government to set targets for syphilis reduction and provide additional resources to handle the sexually transmitted infection.

Dr Jeff Brown, RACP President (NZ), told RadioLIVE’s Wendyl Nissen that the number of cases from the infection has been increasing since 2013.

“The last few years have shown that [the infection] is coming back. Why? We believe there are a number of reasons.

"Firstly, it’s how we look at sexual health services and sexual health expertise - and around the country there have been moves to decrease the accessibility, particularly for vulnerable people, to those services,” Dr Brown told RadioLIVE.

“And, despite making it a notifiable disease, there hasn’t been a backup of a national database to actually record and track, and keep a view of the increase in this disease of the past."

In 2015, the rate was 4.6 per 100,000 per year, but nearly double in Auckland at 8.7 per 100,000. Around 495 cases were recorded in 2017.

Dr Brown says they are most concerned about the growing number of New Zealanders who are contracting syphilis infections, particularly in Auckland – which is now double the country’s average.

He says there are now cases of congenital syphilis, where the infection is being passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.

“Without treatment, there can be serious and sometimes fatal complications for an infected fetus," Dr Brown says.

According to Dr Brown, DHBs do not have targets for reducing the number of syphilis infections and there is no national policy on requirements for the sexual health sector.

There are also no mandatory service specifications for the provision of sexual health clinics.

Listen to the full interview with Dr Jeff Brown above.

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.