Patients at the sexual health clinic have more than doubled in 10 years, according to the health ministry, but the spike could partially be the result of increased awareness.
The Genitourinary (GU) clinic has seen its admissions double from 2,632 in 2009 to 5,864 in 2018, a spokesperson told Times of Malta.
Long waiting periods for appointments, and a rushed service are common complaints levelled at the sexual health clinic that operates half-day from Monday to Friday and is manned by five people.
However, the Health Ministry did not reply to a question whether there are any plans to increase the staff complement at the GU clinic.
High incidence of syphillis
The spotlight was cast on the GU clinic last week as Malta recorded the second-highest incidence of syphilis cases in Europe, according to a report published by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The statistics followed a general trend of increases in syphilis infections across Europe.
The highest rate was observed in Iceland (15.4 cases per 100,000 population), followed by Malta (13.5), the United Kingdom (11.8) and Spain (10.3). Syphilis can be fatal if untreated.
It is currently treated with an injection of benzathine penicillin if diagnosed in the early stages, whereas it requires prolonged treatment when detected late, the spokesperson added.
Condomless sex, multiple sexual partners and high-risk behaviours (chemsex and group sex), are believed to be the cause of the surge in cases, and the most affected populations in Malta are men, according to the ECDC report.
Sexual health strategy in the works
A positive approach to sexuality, rather than simply focusing on the absence of disease underpins the new sexual health strategy currently in the works at the Health Ministry.
Changes in the field of sexual health require a fresh approach that takes into consideration “diverse sexual orientations, sexual expression, and freedom from violence and discrimination,” the spokesperson said.
Response measures should be targeted towards the most affected population groups taking into account the main determinants of transmission, the ECDC said in response to questions by Times of Malta about the way forward.
In addition to this, they recommended the screening of at-risk groups and surveillance activities, while ensuring effective case management of those diagnosed.
Educational campaigns are important too, and should be directed at the general public as well as those at-risk of syphilis infection, and healthcare providers, they added.
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