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NICE calls for free condom schemes to curb rising STI rates

5 August 2016

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is calling for a wider availability of condoms to cut rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In draft guidance released today, NICE has recommended increasing the availability of condoms and female condoms to those most at risk of sexually transmitted infections.

According to Public Health England (PHE), approximately 435,000 STIs were diagnosed in England in 2015, including 200,000 cases of chlamydia.

Syphilis and gonorrhoea rates have also risen by 76% and 53% respectively between 2012 and 2015.

The highest rates of chlamydia, genital herpes and genital warts were found in young people aged 16 to 24, while the highest rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis were found in men who have sex with men.

To curb these rates NICE recommends condom schemes for young people up to age 25 that include advice, support and information, including teaching young people how to use condoms effectively and safely.

For adults, the draft guideline recommends local authorities consider distributing free condoms to men who have sex with men and other high-risk groups. It also recommends selling cheap condoms to adults. 

Christine Carson, programme director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “We know condoms can protect against many sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

“The recent increase in rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis amongst men who have sex with men has been attributed to high levels of sex without using a condom.

“If local authorities and other commissioners can work together to increase condom availability and use amongst high-risk groups we could significantly reduce the rates of STIs.”

The Family Planning Association estimates treating STIs cost the NHS approximately £620 million in 2014.

Susan Otiti, assistant director of public health at Haringey Council and a topic expert on the guideline committee, said: “At a time when local authority sexual health budgets are under pressure, condom distribution schemes are a cheap and effective way to tackle rising STI rates.”

Owen Brigstock Barron, national programme manager – sexual health, reproductive health and HIV at PHE, added: “With significant increases in preventable STIs like gonorrhoea and syphilis it is vital we make access to condoms as simple as possible.”