A friend once told me of her cousin who had a yeast infection. The doctor told her she could have picked it up from the bathroom, in this case, probably the hostel bathrooms. The girl was apparently more embarrassed than afraid. She locked herself up in her room all day. Although we laughed this off, I wondered what this girl would have done incase she was ever diagnosed with an STD. She would most likely keep this as her little secret, and even fear to seek medical help.
The question of whether to tell your partner when you found out that you have an STD remains one of those things that will always come with divergent views.
“I would not tell her, for fear that I might be rejected, but of course, to protect her I would find a way to use a condom if I must have sex, or stay away from her to avoid any sexual contact that could expose her to infection,” Godfrey Ddumba, a fisherman who dropped out of school in Primary Four, says. His view is not different from Jane Nalugo, a 28-year-old banker, who says she would seek medical attention secretly, because she doesn’t want her partner to think that she has been unfaithful, or careless – having unprotected sex.
Mary Nakalyowa, a hair stylist, however, thinks otherwise. “It depends on the relationship I have with the other person. If I love him and we are in a long-term relationship, I would tell him but if I don’t love him, I wouldn’t bother telling him.”
What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are infectious diseases that spread from person to person through intimate contact. STDs can affect males and females of all ages and backgrounds, as long as you have sex.
Dr Patrick Musinguzi, the deputy head of the STD/STI and Skin Clinic at Mulago hospital, says STDs are more than just an embarrassment. “They are a serious health problem. If untreated, some STDs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility – the inability to have a baby and even death, in the case of HIV/Aids.”
How STDs spread
One reason STDs spread is because people think they can only be infected if they have sexual intercourse. That’s wrong. A person can get contract herpes or genital warts through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore, according to Dr JB Muganzi, a clinician at Mulago hospital.
“Another myth about STDs is that you can’t get it through oral or anal sex. That’s also wrong because the viruses or bacteria that cause STDs can enter the body through tiny cuts or tears in the mouth and anus, as well as the genitals,” he says.
He adds that STDs also spread easily “because you can’t tell whether someone has an infection. In fact, some people with STDs don’t even know that they have them. These people are in danger of passing an infection to their sex partners without even realising it.”
One in every two sexually active young people will get an STD by the age of 25, experts say. Fortunately, most STDs are curable, and all are treatable, says Dr Muganzi.
So, if you found out about an infection, why not treat it secretly? According to Dr Musinguzi, telling your partner about it is the only way the cycle of an STD can be broken.
“When only one person is treated, the other may re-introduce the disease. That’s why when someone has an STD, we counsel them and ask them to bring their partner for treatment too.”
He says through years of practice and dealing with STD patients, many people don’t want to open up to their partners for fear of being judged. So he says the treatment package includes counselling and teachings on how to convince the other partner to undergo full treatment.
“When dealing with these diseases, it is important that you tell the truth so that treatment begins with the root cause. The success of treatment depends on treating all the contact persons.”
While opening up is usually a difficult decision to make, Dr Musinguzi says it makes the treatment and adherence to treatment easier. He also says when treatment is done for a couple rather than one partner, they also get an opportunity to test for other STDs.
He appeals to individuals to always endeavour to complete the treatment dose prescribed, as failure to could result into a drug-resistant STD that is difficult and expensive to treat.