Sunday, November 21, 2004

STDs at 'Epidemic Proportions' Among British Women

Reid delivers crisis alert on sex disease
By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor

Sexually transmitted disease is reaching "epidemic proportions" among young
women and requires a Government response on the scale of the 1980s' Aids
warnings, says John Reid, the Health Secretary.

He pointed, in particular, to soaring levels of chlamydia, which can rob
women of their fertility. One in 10 young, sexually active women is now
infected, and the past six years have seen a 139 per cent rise in the
disease.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Reid said: "We need to alert people
to this danger - to bring it out of the closet, put it in front of everybody
and not be embarrassed about it.

"We need to run a campaign of information which tells people of the terrible
consequences of irresponsible sexual behaviour and of transmitted sexual
diseases. It should be of the measure of the HIV-Aids campaign. That was
very effective - it changed people's behaviour.

"This is now reaching epidemic proportions. I think the response of any
sensible government has to be on the scale of our response to Aids."

The powerful anti-Aids advertisements introduced by the Thatcher government
featured tombstones with the slogan: "Don't die of ignorance." They were
credited with helping to stop the spread of the virus as young people took
much greater precautions when having sex.

Last week's White Paper on public health promised more action to prevent the
advance of chlamydia, including the fast-tracking of a national screening
programme.

This week, Mr Reid will announce further details of the planned new
advertising campaign. This could include targeting advertisements at problem
areas such as Ibiza, a popular holiday spot for young Britons.

Mr Reid said: "This is a huge problem for us and it's growing. Chlamydia has
no symptoms in many cases, but is a vast reservoir of stress and anguish
further down the line - not least because of the terrible consequences of
infertility."

The Health Secretary vigorously defended himself against accusations that
his White Paper's plans to ban smoking in restaurants, offices and most pubs
represented a victory for the "nanny state".

He also declined to rule himself out of the contest to succeed Tony Blair as
Labour leader following the Prime Minister's announcement that he will step
down after a third term if his party wins the next election. "I think there
will be four years during which there will be endless speculation," said Mr
Reid. "I have no intention of starting another hare running."

He suggested that a younger, currently unknown contender might emerge. He
said: "In that timescale in politics, where a week is a long time, at the
end of that timescale there will be people who we've never considered who
will be candidates."