The burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is increasing around the world. In 2020, the World Health Organization estimated 374 million new infections for just four pathogens: chlamydia (129 million), gonorrhea (82 million), syphilis (7.1 million), and trichomoniasis (156 million). STIs have a profound impact on sexual and reproductive health worldwide. Complications have potential for life-long health problems, including infertility and mother-to-child transfer of infections.
STI stigma is particularly hard to overcome and is a barrier to testing. STIs were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with closing of sexual health clinics and stay-at-home orders leading to delayed access to testing and treatment. Rates of STI infections were rising prior to the pandemic and continue to rise, increasing the need to widen and accelerate access to testing and care. Early initiation of treatment is prudent to reduce the consequences of infection and prevent onward transmission of infection. Concerningly, treatment for certain STIs is becoming more and more complicated. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the causative agent of gonorrhea, has progressively developed resistance to antibiotics, causing fear that we will run out of treatment options in the not-so-distant future.
Diagnosis of STIs often involves collecting genital swabs or urine samples. These samples are sent to reference laboratories, with long turn-around-times that require providers to reach out to patients for results. We continue to advocate for the development of point-of-care tests to allow healthcare providers the ability to initiate treatment for their patients within one appointment encounter. Our Center has been at the forefront in aiding companies to accelerate development of technologies for the specific diagnosis of STIs.
The CIDID has built on decades of experience evaluating STI diagnostic technologies. We have funded more than 25 companies in the past decade to develop STI POC diagnostic tests. Our work led to the first FDA-cleared CLIA-waived POC STI diagnostic test. IWTK.com has become a pioneer on-line platform for clinical STI testing of self-collected samples.