Clinics overwhelmed by rise in sex diseases

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Indy Lifestyle Online

In an anonymous side-street in south London, doctors are struggling with Western Europe's biggest concentration of sexually transmitted disease.

In an anonymous side-street in south London, doctors are struggling with Western Europe's biggest concentration of sexually transmitted disease.

On Wednesday last week, at least 60 young people spilled on to the rainy pavement at the Caldecot Centre, a sexual health clinic at King's College Hospital, Camberwell.

Three south London boroughs - Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham - have the biggest concentration of sexually transmitted disease in the European Union, accounting for one-sixth of all new UK cases of HIV last year. They have also seen a huge leap in the number of people with gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Nationally, gonorrhoea went up by 25 per cent between 1998 and 1999, chlamydia by 16 per cent.

Dr Jan Welch, who runs the centre, is currently treating an 11-year-old with both conditions. In 1992, when the centre opened, it saw 16,000 people. This year the number has tripled, and Dr Welch and her staff are at breaking point. "We need another £3m for staff and a premises extension just to cope with current demand, but a survey by York University predicts we will have a 300 per cent growth in numbers over the next 10 years," she said.

Last spring the centre was told to close for a period because it had used up its budget, and Dr Welch said she spent every day "fire-fighting". It sees 10 to 15 new cases of HIV every month, each patient requiring drugs costing £10,000 a year. One per cent of all pregnant women in the area are HIV positive, while men infected with the Aids virus continue to have unprotected sex.

With such a huge burden of care, there is nothing left to spend on preventive measures or education to combat sexually transmitted disease or unwanted pregnancy. The south London problem has its roots in poverty, unemployment, poor education, illegal drug use and a big population originally from the Aids epidemic belt of sub-Saharan Africa.

The size of the national funding gap left by the spread of sexually transmitted disease is unknown, but one London hospital told the Independent on Sunday it was £3m short.

Dr Jeanette Meadway, an Aids expert and medical director of Mildmay Mission Hospital, Hackney, said: "Each year we are adding about 1,500 to 2,000 people to the total with HIV but health authority budgets are not going up by the same amount."

A Department of Health spokesman said a new sexual health and HIV strategy would be published at the end of the year. It is expected to include a £15m campaign to cut teenage pregnancies and disease.

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