I’ve found myself googling ‘sexually transmitted infections’ a fair bit recently, but, I’d like to quickly point out, not for the reasons one might think.
My web habits – which may be causing a few raised eyebrows over at IT – are due to a concerning gap in information that nobody in our health system seems too worried about.
STIs are not glamorous, and for anyone who’s had one, I’m sure they’re a pain in more ways than one.
Easy to catch, and in some cases, hard to get rid of.
As well as being uncomfortable, and perhaps a tad embarrassing, some STIs can actually do serious damage and affect fertility.
So, given all that, you’d think the people in charge of our health system might actually want to know how bad the issue is in Queenstown.
As someone with a particular interest in social issues affecting this beautiful resort we call home, I certainly do.
But according to both the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) and Ministry of Health, the numbers can’t be broken down any more than at a health board level.
In other words, there’s no way of knowing the extent of the problem, or if there even is one, in New Zealand’s biggest party town.
Since that concerning revelation I’ve been itching to find out, as it were, just why there doesn’t seem to be any way of knowing.
After multiple queries, a seemingly ignored interview request, and a couple of Official Information Act requests, I’m still frustratingly in the dark.
According to the DHB, “surveillance is currently based on data from specialist sexual health clinics, from family planning and student, youth health clinics and laboratories”.
That’s then added to national data.
Slightly suss use of the word ‘surveillance’ aside, there’s a problem with that.
The DHB has already said sexual health services for STIs in Queenstown are provided by Queenstown Medical Centre.
GPs aren’t “required or able” to report data on to the national sexual health data set.
The Ministry of Health doesn’t seem to have the information either.
Could there be an outbreak of, say, gonorrhea we know nothing about? What about targeted health campaigns – how do we know if education should be ramping up if we don’t know something’s an issue?
There is one ray of hope.
The DHB says it’s working with Family Planning and WellSouth “to progress the improvement of data collection with our laboratory provider across the district”.
Let’s hope they manage to improve things to a point where we know the real situation in our town – warts and all.