A health expert is urging Kiwis to use New Zealand's successful COVID-19 response to take action against rising cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The latest data from Crown Research Institute ESR shows gonorrhoea cases increased 33 percent in the year ending 2019 and syphilis cases increased 16 percent.
"These are serious STIs," NZ AIDS Foundation Fellow at Auckland University's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Dr Peter Saxton says.
"What we want to see is more effective action inspired by New Zealand's successful COVID-19 response, in three immediate areas: surveillance, contact tracing and de-stigmatisation."
Gonorrhoea cases rose 33 percent from the year ending 2018 to the year ending 2019, from 110 per 100,000 to 146 per 100,000.
The data found rates that rose in both men and women were the highest in those aged 20-29 and among Māori and Pacific peoples. A quarter (26 percent) of cases reported were among gay and bisexual men.
Syphilis cases increased 16 percent over the same period from 627 to 729 cases. Gay and bisexual men account for an overwhelming 60 percent of syphilis cases.
Dr Saxton says we should address these infections in ways New Zealand addressed our successful COVID-19 response: improving surveillance, contact tracing and de-stigmatisation.
"First we need to improve surveillance. We need faster and more complete information on who's affected so we can target responses," he says.
"Then we need to act on that data. We should harness New Zealand's contact tracing expertise we've grown for COVID-19 and repurpose it for STIs, so we can get people diagnosed and treated and close down transmission chains.
"Finally, we need to stop stigmatising sexual health so people who might be fearful or embarrassed don't hesitate to seek screening and care."
Dr Saxton says we should normalise sex and stop blaming people.
"We have an opportunity now to create a coordinated, strategic approach to STIs and bring them back under control. We don't want to see the investments in infectious disease control for COVID-19 go to waste," he says.
"We also don't want to hear more finger-pointing at individuals and blaming them for being risky. Sex is a common and enjoyable activity, mostly people with STIs are just unlucky.
"Yes safe sex plays an important role. But so does investing in smart systems like surveillance, screening, contact tracing, sexual health services and normalising sexual health."