Remember syphilis? That STD you thought was a thing of the past, if you thought of it at all? It was once nearly eradicated but it’s back, with fervor.
The latest CDC study reports that STDs in general and syphilis in particular are on the rise. So much so that America is surpassing every other industrialized nation.
People can blame Tinder—and boy, do they blame Tinder—but politics are the true culprit. Right-leaning southern states have disproportionately high rates of STDs and teen pregnancy. And it’s young women, black and Latinx communities and gay men who are affected the most. These also happen to be the groups most ignored or actively hated by Republican leadership.
Syphilis is treatable, but treatment requires the infected to get tested in the first place in addition to being able to afford and acquire the necessary antibiotics. If left untreated, it can do lasting damage to the body even 20 years after infection. We’re talking dementia, other forms of brain damage and paralysis.
Republicans claim to be the party of life, the party that protects the unborn and the party that will bodyblock an impoverished teenage immigrant from getting an abortion. But upwards of 40 percent of babies with congenital syphilis are stillborn or die shortly after birth. It is in the vested interest of those babies to help prevent their mothers from getting infected yet Republicans do their darndest to ensure that doesn’t happen.
People need access to judgement-free family planning clinics. Next to repealing Obamacare, Republicans in the last election campaigned hardest on defunding Planned Parenthood. The family planning clinic is the largest provider of sexual healthcare in the country and a resource for millions of Americans to get tested and treated for STDs ranging from syphilis to HIV.
We need sex positive family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood. Anything sex related carries a heady stigma and STDs even more so; if you contract syphilis or chlamydia, both very treatable infections if caught in time, you’re a dirty person. As David Harvey, from the National Coalition of STD Directors, told NPR, “it’s very hard for people to come forward to talk about these issues” with their general practitioners and family doctors. And it’s hard to blame them, when plenty of doctors themselves are not well educated in the area.
This is also why we need better sex ed for children and teenagers. But Republicans want to eliminate that too. They’re already on their way; the Who Know You administration already invested several million dollars in abstinence-only education, the surest way to get teenagers pregnant. Our national discourse is the perfect breeding ground for helping young people contract STDs like syphilis and then not treat it, because the shame of coming forward in the first place is too great.
It’s ridiculous that we are once again battling an infection featured in anti-venereal disease posters from World War II. We shouldn’t have to distribute posters like these again:
Courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine