Reported cases of sexually transmitted infections have dropped in the third quarter of 2021, but it isn't all good news with COVID-19 impacting testing and health inequities still prevalent among cases.
According to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), reported cases of syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia have slightly declined. However, Māori, Pacific, young people, and men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be disproportionately affected with significantly higher STI rates.
Chlamydia is still the most reported STI in New Zealand with 525 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 of the New Zealand population reported for the 12 months ending September 30, 2021.
The majority of cases were females aged 15 to 29 years and are consistently much higher among Māori and Pacific peoples. While male rates are low the research suggests many infections are going undiagnosed and treated.
Syphilis cases have continued to decline since 2019, with 463 reported cases of infectious syphilis in the 12 months ending September 30, 2021.
Most syphilis cases continue to be in males, with MSM making up 53 percent of cases despite being a much lower proportion of the population.
ESR also found among heterosexual female cases, Māori women are disproportionately impacted.
There was a decrease in gonorrhoea cases with 139 reported cases per 100,000 of the New Zealand population reported for the 12 months ended September 30, 2021.
Gonorrhoea is most commonly reported in MSM between ages 20 to 29.
ESR found gonorrhoea rates are consistently much higher amongst Māori and Pacific peoples.
ESR technical lead in epidemiology Dr Andrea McNeill said that while a reduction in STIs is encouraging the results are likely to be influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic response.
"During the COVID-19 response there has been limited access to healthcare, reduced testing and behavioural changes, which have had an influence on the number of reported STIs," Dr McNeill said.
ESR found both chlamydia and gonorrhoea rates were impacted by COVID and continued to fluctuate likely influenced by changes to the alert levels.
The institute warns data since early 2020 should be interpreted with caution, as COVID disrupted face-to-face consultations and reduced asymptomatic testing.