The prevalence of chlamydia has increased in the past eight years, despite Government efforts to curb the infection.
Research, published in The Lancet, from Public Health England and Imperial College London found that the National Chlamydia Screening Programme initially reduced the prevalence of chlamydia in its first two years.
However, the rates of testing and diagnosis then reduced, with researchers saying this has led to increases in prevalence and duration of infection.
The screening programme, led by Public Health England, was launched in 2008 and offered chlamydia testing to men and women aged 15 to 24 through GP practices.
The researchers said prevalence rates ‘clearly declined year-on-year’, falling by 0.7 percentage points for men and 0.8 percentage points for women in the two years after its introduction.
However, the paper added: ‘After 2010 our analysis estimated that prevalence increased and then stabilised in both sexes, whereas duration of infection increased—slightly in women, and substantially in men.’
Dr Joanna Lewis, from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, who co-authored the paper, told Pulse the research is limited by the available data, including the sexual risk behaviour of people being tested.
She said: ‘Chlamydia prevalence is affected not only by screening but also by sexual behaviour – for example, changes in numbers of partners people are having, and how much they use condoms.’
But she added: ‘We also found a reduction in the average duration of infection, which would not be affected by sexual risk behaviour, and this suggests that screening has been having a beneficial effect.’
Dr Lewis said the decrease in testing ‘is concerning’ with researchers estimating ‘an increase in prevalence and duration of infection’.
She said: ‘Better data, and more studies, could build a stronger evidence base about the best ways to control chlamydia.’
Earlier this month, Pulse revealed that around nine in 10 councils have cut their public health budgets for 2018/19. In London, this included cutting sexual health services and switching them to an online testing model.