Many Kenyans who have the mysterious sexually transmitted disease chlamydia do not receive treatment because they are unaware of their infection or because the expense of testing is prohibitive.
Dr. Murugi Micheni of the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) claims that untreated chlamydia can lead to infertility as well as other difficulties with the reproductive organs.
It’s an illness that’s hidden. About 70% of chlamydia-infected women may not exhibit any symptoms, or the symptoms may resemble those of other illnesses or poor hygiene. We are concerned about this asymptomatic group, according to Dr. Murugi.
While those with symptoms feel pain while passing urine or in the abdominal area, or have an abnormal discharge or bleeding, those without symptoms can still spread the disease to others through sexual contact.
Chlamydia can affect the cervix, rectum, or throat in women, but it can also affect the urethra, rectum, or throat in men.
Chlamydia can be diagnosed through laboratory testing, but the tests are expensive—costing anywhere between Sh3,150 and Sh17,000—and most public hospitals lack the labs and equipment necessary to perform the test.
The rising prevalence of STDs among young people is cause for alarm. More than one in every eight girls tested positive for gonorrhea in a 2020 study on Kenyan youth in Kilifi, with chlamydia infection being the most common.
“Our research shows that adolescents and young women can progress from sexual naiveté to sexual intercourse to STI acquisition in a relatively short time frame, indicating a brief window to intervene to reduce risks,” the researchers wrote in the study titled Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Kenyan Adolescent Girls And Young Women With Limited Sexual Experience.
With an unhealthy youth population, Kenya faces a massive medical cost burden in caring for young people. Aside from increasing the chance of infection transmission, untreated chlamydia is more expensive to treat.
Another source of concern is a lack of accurate data. There are no specific statistics on the number of Kenyans with the infections because many with symptoms choose to buy over-the-counter drugs that address a wide variety of symptoms rather than visit doctors.
“Data on lab-confirmed STD prevalence among these populations remains a barrier,” Dr. Murugi stated.
Kenya is sitting on a ticking time bomb because it lacks precise data. Untreated STDs can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease, persistent discomfort, infertility, and even neonatal blindness and death.
“I wonder if many of the infertility cases we see are caused by untreated chlamydia,” Dr. Murugi says.
It is not simply data for the sake of collecting it. The backbone of public health is the surveillance of all STDs. Without timely and reliable data, it’s as if the Health Ministry is trying to figure out the hotspots, areas, and age categories while wearing blindfolds.
Another concerning trend, aside from the sponsor culture that is thought to be fueling new diseases, is sexual concurrency. Kenyans have serial partners within a network in this case. A man or woman, for example, may have three or more forms of sexual relationships.
“Our current concentration is on sexual networks.” We need to know who you know in your network. This person most likely has another partner like you. That is your sexual network. “How many persons in that network need to have an STI to make everyone sick?” Dr. Murugi poses.
“It usually appears to be a stable network, not a series of one-night stands, right?” “However, it just takes one person to do something stupid,” she continues.
Because having STDs is still considered taboo, the stigma persists, and these diseases are seen to affect persons outside one’s network but not those inside one’s network.
One of the taboo subjects is oral sex and STDs. Oral intercourse is a common practice among Kenyans, although there is no local study or discussion on behaviors related to sexually transmitted infections of the pharynx (throat).
Researchers claimed in a study on gonorrhea in the throat among young people that the recent increase in the incidence of STDs in the US highlighted the need for a better knowledge of the hazards of throat infections.
According to the findings of the study, throat gonorrhea is relatively widespread among young individuals.
According to the researchers, counseling, education, and screening should be expanded to cover gonorrhea, chlamydia, and other STDs that arise in the throat.
“Young people and those most vulnerable to these illnesses might be informed about the potential increased risk of gonorrhea from ingesting fluids.” “There is also preliminary evidence of the efficacy and acceptability of using antiseptic mouthwash to prevent pharyngeal gonorrhea,” the researchers wrote.
According to Dr. Joan Okemo, a consultant in obstetrics and gynecology at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, oral sex is popular among teenagers as a method of preventing pregnancy, and some believe it is a risk-free practice.
“Oral intercourse can transmit a variety of disease-causing bugs, including intestinal parasites, bacteria, syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, Hepatitis A, B, and C, and HPV, which causes warts and some malignancies such as cervical and throat cancers,” she explained.