A new report points to a worrying rise in the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis, among adolescent girls in Kenya during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Preliminary post-pandemic data collected in 2020 shows a dramatic increase in infections compared to 2019.
Research in the ongoing study showed a 55 percent increase in bacterial vaginosis (BV) and a 34 percent increase in STIs. While BV is an inflammatory condition caused by an overgrowth of certain bacteria naturally found in the vagina, it increases the chance of getting an STI.
Bacterial vaginosis can occur without penetrative sexual activity in some cases. Nonsexual risk factors include intravaginal and vaginal hygiene practices and smoking.
The report also showed significant co-infection, with 31 percent of girls with BV having an STI and 35 percent of girls with an STI also having BV.
The latest findings, published Jan. 2 in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, blame post-Covid socioeconomic factors, including high Covid-related stress, increased poverty during menstruation and sexual activity.
The scientists, who studied how stress-related pandemics have affected sexual behavior and risk of sexually transmitted infections among girls and young women in Kenya, said: “Not surprisingly, voluntary and/or forced or tricked sexual activity among girls with detected sexual activity BV or STI were more common, although 52 percent of girls with BV and 39 percent of girls with STI reported never having had any type of intercourse.”
Of the girls in the study, who had an average age of 16, nearly a third, or 30.2 percent, reported having had sex in the past, and of these, 54 percent said they had been forced or tricked into having sex.
Among sexually active girls, only 8.5 percent reported using a hormonal contraceptive for family planning.
The original study, which began in April 2018 by co-researcher Penelope Phillips-Howard at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, aimed to understand the effects of menstrual cups and the role of the vaginal microbiome in reducing rates of bacterial vaginosis and STIs Understanding Diseases in the Western World Kenya.
Research has shown that it is common for girls to have transactional sex to get items like toiletries, soap and underwear, and that young women aged 15 to 19 have a disproportionate share of sexually transmitted infections.
A new phase of the study by University of Illinois Chicago researchers will seek to understand where Covid-19 lockdowns and school closures have significantly impacted the community, changing girls’ access to and dependence on exchange sex for necessities, particularly those who do may have occurred are otherwise obtainable through schools.
The researchers received a $2.6 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health to gain deep insight into how pandemic-related stressors affect sexual behavior and the risk of STIs.