On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an annual report revealing that the number of combined reported cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia reached a record high last year. Titled “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report”, the report noted that in 2018, there were more than 2.4 million syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia infections combined — an increase of more than 100,000 from the previous year.
There was also a 71 percent increase in syphilis cases since 2014, along with a 22 percent increase from 2017 in the number of newborn deaths related to congenital syphilis.
The CDC said the rise in newborn deaths caused by congenital syphilis, which is passed from mother to child during pregnancy, is connected to rising syphilis rates among women having children. In a media statement, the CDC encouraged women to get tested for STDs by their health care providers and use protection.
“STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations,” Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said. “Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV, and infant deaths.”
While the CDC did not explicitly state it, STI testing is becoming harder to come by for vulnerable populations because free test clinics — including some Planned Parenthood clinics — are being defunded by Trump administration policies. Ironically, the Trump administration’s pro-life policies have put newborn babies at a higher risk for death. Indeed, the Trump administration’s policy decision to cut off Title X funding to health care centers that provide abortion care is resulting in the closing of clinics that don’t offer abortion services, but do offer STD testing.
Astonishingly, syphilis was close to being eliminated in 2000. Since the recession, some programs were cut because STDs weren’t seen as such a threat, but many of the cut programs didn’t have their funding restored post-recession. Compounded with newfound resources flooding other initiatives, like the Trump administration’s federal budget supporting abstinence-only programs, STD prevention programs have few resources now. According to the National Coalition of STD Directors, more than half of local STD programs have experienced budget cuts.