Thought syphilis had gone away? No such luck! Find out why the team behind PrEPster is now saying Long Time No Syphilis!
Most of us think of syphilis as something that was common in the 1940s, when soldiers returned back from war, or in the 1970s, as a consequence of the summer of love. Syphilis took a deep dive throughout the 80s and 90s and became so uncommon that sexual health doctors rarely saw a case. After a small increase in the early 2000s, syphilis is back, and it’s back big time.
Over the last five years, the number of syphilis cases diagnosed in the UK has more than doubled. Most of those cases are in gay or bisexual men – although cases are also increasing in straight people, and half of the diagnoses are in London.
This increase in syphilis diagnoses comes on the back of recently announced cuts to sexual health services. Just last month, a parliamentary question demonstrated that almost a quarter of a million fewer sexual health check ups had taken place over the last three years. As local authorities struggle to balance their public health budgets, clinics across England have been turning people away.
The result? People with undiagnosed STIs can’t get them diagnosed and treated as quickly, and having an undiagnosed STI means that the STI can be passed on to others.
In addition, cuts to public health budgets mean there is less education and awareness about STIs taking place; when did you last see a syphilis education campaign in a bar, venue or backroom?
For the past four years, those of us behind advocacy and education group PrEPster have been putting all our weight behind the push for PrEP. At every event we take part in, someone always asks the question: “But isn’t the use of PrEP leading to an increase in other STIs?” The answer to that question is “possibly” – but we also know that PrEP has lead to the biggest reduction in HIV in gay men in London that we’ve ever seen. We also know that STIs were on the increase WAY before we started using PrEP – and also increasing in groups of people who aren’t accessing PrEP.
So, rather than getting stuck in round-and-round discussions about the possible impact of PrEP on STIs, we’ve decided to face STIs straight on. Taking all the models and learning from the work on PrEP, we’re about to launch a big new syphilis awareness programme. Developed over the spring, Long Time No Syphilis – the comeback you weren’t looking forward to, will launch this summer.
Because we know that public health budgets are scarce, we’re funding the education programme through a community Crowd Funder. We’re asking people who can afford to within our own communities to dig deep and help us fund this health programme. The Crowd Funder offers rewards to some of the UK’s best clubs and venues; photoshoots and artwork from our best queers artists; and limited edition Long Time No Syphilis stickers, totes and tee shirts.
Fronted by adult porn performer Leander, the Crowd Funder is aiming to raise £20,000 in the next four weeks. We’re also asking bars, venues and businesses to offer their support to the fundraiser and to help us address the sexual health of our communities.
With the funding we’re launching a big new awareness website – with everything there is to know about syphilis. We’ll be helping people to find out where to get tested for syphilis, how to get it treated, and the symptoms to look out for. We’ll also be helping people navigate that trickiest of situations: how to let your fuck buddies know you’ve just been diagnosed with syph.
We’ll also be plastering venues, clubs and bars with posters and flyers about syphilis; training outreach workers to know more about syphilis; and jumping on social media to spread the word about preventing, testing and treating this sexually transmitted infection.
We can’t sit back and watch a problem grow, when we can take action within our communities. Will you join us to make a difference?
To find out more visit longtimenosyph.info. To support the Crowd Funder visit crowdfunder.co.uk/ltnsyphilis.