Over 1 million STIs are acquired everyday, and 376 million cases are reported annually, according to the WHO.
Although they are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between STI and STD. STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are spread predominantly through sexual contact and cause STDs (Sexually transmitted diseases). Sexual contact includes vaginal, oral and anal sex.
There are over 30 different pathogen (bacteria, viruses and parasites) that are transmitted through sexual contact, and eight of these STIs are responsible for the highest occurrence of STDs. Four of them are incurable viral infections: Hepatitis B, Herpes Simplex Virus, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The remaining four are curable: Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Trichomoniasis. Some STIs can also be transmitted from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
STIs in Women
There is a significant burden of STIs globally, and women are a vulnerable group. Approximately 300 million women have an HPV infection, the primary cause of cervical cancer and in 2018, 28 Nigerian women died everyday from cervical cancer. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are a major cause of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) in women, which is associated with infertility. Gonorrhea is one of the most common STIs in Nigeria, and in 1963, the WHO found Lagos state to have the highest rate of gonorrhea in the world. There is a paucity of information on the current rates of STDs in Nigeria, but Nigeria ranks in the top 10 countries with the highest rates of STDs globally.
How Can I Avoid Getting An STI?
Consistent use of condoms is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from STIs, especially if you have multiple sexual partners. Condoms come in different forms, textures and sizes, so there is a condom for everyone. However, condoms do not offer protection from syphilis and genital herpes, which cause extra genital ulcers. They are also not entirely protective from HPV, as it can spread through genital contact (from the parts of your genitals that are not covered by a condom).
There are vaccines available for Hepatitis B and HPV. These vaccines are safe and offer effective protection from STIs. Hepatitis B vaccine is administered in 3 doses and is available in most Nigerian hospitals for less than five thousand naira per dose. Although there is currently a shortage of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria, it is often administered in most government hospitals and some private hospitals.
How Do I Know If I Have An STI?
STIs are diagnosed through medical lab testing. Different infections have different signs and symptoms, however, if you are experiencing any of the following, you should get tested, and see your doctor.
- Vaginal discharge
- Itchy genitals
- Skin growths around genitals and anus
- Pain or burning sensation when peeing
- Abdominal pain
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
It is important to know that some STIs remain asymptomatic for a long time, that is why STI testing should be a routine health check and not something to do only when you are experiencing symptoms.
Where Can I Get Help?
- Any Government Hospital
67% of health facilities in Nigeria are government owned, making them the most accessible to the average woman. In these hospitals, you cannot directly access STI testing unless it is requested by a doctor. So, you would need to open a card, see a doctor, then tell the doctor that you would like to get tested. They would likely take your sexual history, examine you if necessary, then fill a lab form for you to take to the lab for testing. Truthfully, government hospitals can be stressful, but they are often the cheapest and most accessible option available. Find a government hospital close to you here
Healthtracka is a digital platform that allows you to order your health tests from your home. When you book your tests with them, they come to your home, take samples, and deliver your results in a few days. Their basic STD test costs fifteen thousand naira and a standard STD test costs thirty five thousand naira. They also carry out specific STI tests for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV and hepatitis A and B. Book your tests here.
- Marie Stopes Nigeria
Marie Stopes provides sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including cervical cancer screening, STI testing and treatment, HPV vaccination. They have five locations in Nigeria – Abuja, Edo, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Delta. Find out more here.
- Aids Healthcare Foundation
AHF offers free rapid HIV tests, counselling, treatment and free condoms to anyone. To date, they have conducted over 2 million HIV tests and distributed over 8 million condoms to people. Their main clinics are located in Nasarrawa, Abuja, Cross River, Anambra, Benue and Kogi states – all you have to do is walk in. Find out more about clinics close to you here.
SYNLAB is a medical diagnostic group that offers diagnostic services including STI testing. They have several labs in different states in Nigeria including Kaduna, Oyo, Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Abuja, Edo, Ogin and Osun states. You can find a lab near you on their official website.
- Women’s Health Platforms (WHP) Foundation
WHP is located in Abuja and is committed to breast and cervical cancer prevention sexual health and fertility education for women. They carry out Cervical screening for HPV for just two thousand naira and also carry out HPV treatment in the case of a positive result.
- Private Hospitals
Most private hospitals have medical lab services and will carry out STI testing for you. If you are attached to any private hospital via your HMO, or on your own, then you should speak to your doctor about your sexual health and getting tested for STIs.