Inaccessible SRHR services and lack of awareness among young people is leading to an increase in sexually transmitted infection rates says Rouba Kiprianos
Sexually transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections passed from one person to another through sexual contact. With more than 20 types of STIs/STDs infecting women and men across communities, preventive sexual health education and awareness campaigns on SRHR could help reduce STI transmission rates in the population.
Conversely, the lack of accessibility and availability of correspondent tests and treatments for STIs lead to an increase in infection rates.
My sexual partner tested positive for chlamydia some time ago. I decided to get tested at the closest medical lab in Byblos/Jbeil. Unfortunately, the medical lab did not have a test available for Chlamydia. I decided to go to another medical lab. However, the test was not available there as well.
Fortunately, the third medical lab I visited offered a Chlamydia test. The test cost 60$ in cash. I was shocked to learn the price of a basic STI test as a young person amid the economic crisis in Lebanon.
Inaccessible SRHR services.
I am an unemployed fresh biology graduate with no income. After finding out the costs related to the tests, I contacted a health centre in Beirut which provides sexual health services and tests. The health centre offered a package with two other tests that I had to purchase to be tested for chlamydia. This package cost 80$ in cash.
Consequently, I did nothing. I struggled to find antibiotics for my treatment in the pharmacies, the price of which was expensive as well.
I am positive that many others have faced the same scenario that I have. People cannot afford to pay 60$ in cash, which is equivalent to 1,500,000 Lebanese pounds for a single STI test. The minimum monthly wage in Lebanon is 675,000 pounds (34$) which shows how exorbitant the testing prices are.
One must be willing to spend more than two months’ salary to solely get tested for chlamydia. This does not include the cost of its treatment and the medical care associated with it (in some cases).
Increase in STI rates.
My experience is a small example of how people, more specifically women, are struggling to receive affordable healthcare every day. Thanks to the corrupt, patriarchal and degraded system, health care has become expensive and inaccessible.
This is fraudulence of human rights and a major cause for moral and sexual health deterioration. The increasing costs related to tests directly contributes to the increasing rates of STI/STDs.
So, what is the correlation between an ultra-expensive test for chlamydia and the growing epidemic of STIs?
People who are infected will avoid STI testing due to the expensive costs associated. The best-case scenario is that they would treat themselves with pharmaceutical drugs and refrain from any sexual activity until they get rid of the bacteria.
It is also important to note that many people have little or no knowledge about STIs and SRHR. Many people are unaware of the transmissions and their effects. Lack of awareness leads to a growing rate of STIs in the population.
The patriarchal educational, economic, political, and medical systems are affecting people’s health and needs.
SRHR education should be provided to everyone at an early age by integrating SRHR education into school curricula. On the other hand, SRHR services should be accessible to all.
Just as we learn about the respiratory system, digestive system or any other system in our body, people have the right to learn about the reproductive health and system instead of basing their learnings and decisions on false information imposed by society or religion.
The stigmatisation of SRHR (or anything that has to do with sexuality or reproductive organs/functions) is discouraging discourse in the communities. It is essential that young people learn about sexual and reproductive rights to create healthy communities.
As a WeLead SRHR researcher in Lebanon, I have noticed how young women, especially rights holders, are individually struggling to find and access services and products related to SRHR. SRHR education and awareness are human rights. SRHR issues should be prioritised instead of being individualised so that communities can maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Rouba Kiprianos is 22 years old and a fresh Biology/pre-med graduate. She is a humanitarian activist by nature, engaged in creating a safe space, protecting and respecting women’s rights and needs, especially in the Arab world. She is currently a WeLead researcher, conducting a study on SRHR for women rights-holders in Lebanon.