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Department of Reproductive Health and Research (RHR), World Health Organization

Sexually transmitted and other reproductive tract infections

A guide to essential practice

 

 
    

STI/RTI basics
Chapter 1. Infections of the male and female reproductive tract and their consequences


 

What can be done about RTIs?

Most of the serious health problems caused by STIs/RTIs are preventable. Communities with good access to effective prevention and treatment services have lower rates of STI/RTI and STI/RTI complications than communities where services are poor, disrupted or not used by people at risk. Reducing the burden of STI/RTI requires more than good clinical management of individual patients, however. STIs/RTIs are transmitted in the community, and limiting interventions to clinic settings misses much of the problem. Box 1.4 lists some important barriers to controlling STIs/RTIs at the community level, and what can be done about them.

 

Box 1.4. Some barriers to STI/RTI control at the community level

What is the problem?

What can be done?

Poverty and labour migration separate families and lead to risky sexual behaviour.

Economic and social policies that reduce family separation may reduce risk and vulnerability.

Low status of women limits economic options and leads to risky sexual behaviour. Women may exchange sex for money or other forms of support. Low status also means little control over decisions and less ability to negotiate with partners.

Educational and employment opportunities for girls reduce the economic pull of sex work, empower women and reduce STI risk.

 

Poor health care services have little to offer for prevention and care of STI/RTI.

Improved health care services mean better prevention and care.

People do not have easy access to health care facilities.

Reducing barriers such as cost, distance, limited clinic hours and long waiting times means better access to care.

People do not use health care facilities (poor health-care-seeking behaviour).

Better awareness of STI/RTI symptoms and complications, and promotion of improved health care services will convince more people to use services.

 

Some countries have greatly reduced the prevalence and transmission of common STIs/RTIs by addressing such social and structural factors. Thailand recently reduced the incidence of the most common STIs by over 90% by promoting increased condom use and improving STI treatment among commercial sex workers (Box 1.5). Maternal morbidity due to complications of childbirth and abortion has declined dramatically in countries where safe services are available. High rates of preventable reproductive morbidity and mortality in other countries make prevention and control of these infections a public health priority.

 

Box 1.5. Effective STI control and HIV prevention in Thailand

In response to a rapidly growing HIV epidemic in the late 1980s, Thailand took steps to reduce sexual transmission of HIV and other STIs. Condom use was strongly promoted, particularly in commercial sex networks, and STI diagnosis and treatment were strengthened. Within five years, condom use reported by sex workers had risen from 14% to 94% and STI rates were declining (see Figure 1.2). During this period, HIV prevalence declined in both high-risk groups and pregnant women (not shown). Strong government commitment and the use of targeted strategies to reach the populations where most STI transmission was taking place were important elements of Thailand’s success.

 

Figure 1.2. Clients using condoms and reported STI cases—Thailand

Contents
html files

 

Infections of the male and female reproductive tract and their consequences:

What are RTIs?

Why STI/RTIs are important?

What can be done about RTIs?

The role of clinical services in reducing the burden of STI/RTI

Preventing STIs/RTIs and their complications

How to prevent STI

How to prevent iatrogenic infections

How to prevent endogenous infections

Detecting STI/RTI

Detecting STI/RTI

Syphilis

Vaginal infections

Cervical infections

Pelvic inflammatory disease

HIV counselling and testing

STI/RTI education and counselling

Key points

Privacy and confidentiality

General skills for STI/RTI education and counselling

Health education

Counselling

Promoting prevention of STI/RTI and use of services

Key points

Reducing barriers to use of services

Raising awareness and promoting services

Reaching groups that do not typically use reproductive health services

STI/RTI Assessment during Routine Family Planning Visits

Key points

Integrating STI/RTI assessment into routine FP services

Family planning methods and STIs/RTIs

STI/RTI Assessment in pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period

Key points

Management of symptomatic STIs/RTIs

Syndromic management of STI/RTI

Management of common syndromes

STI case management and prevention of new infections

STI/RTI complications related to pregnancy, miscarriage, induced abortion, and the postpartum period

Key points

Infection in early pregnancy

Infection in lated pregnancy

Infection following childbirth

Vaginal discharge in pregnancy and the postpartum period

Sexual violence

Key points

Medical and other care for survivors of sexual assault

Annex 1. Clinical skills needed for STI/RTI

History-taking

Common STI/RTI symptoms

Examining patients

Annex 2. Disinfection and universal precautions

Preventing infection in clinical settings

High-level disinfection: three steps

Universal precautions

Annex 3. Laboratory tests for RTI

Interpreting syphilis test results

Clinical criteria for bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Wet mount microscopy

Gram stain microscopy of vaginal smears

Use of Gram stain for diagnosis of cervical infection

Annex 4. Medications

Medications in pregnancy

Antibiotic treatments for gonorrhoa

Annex 5.

STI/RTI reference table

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Additionnal resources

 

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