Covid measures cut Norway’s sexually-transmitted infections

Sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) declined sharply in Norway last year thanks to social distancing during the pandemic, official statistics published on Thursday showed.

Covid measures cut Norway's sexually-transmitted infections
Medical swabs used for STI tests. Photo by on Unsplash

The country saw a 39-percent reduction in gonorrhoea cases, an 11-percent drop in chlamydia cases, and a 20-percent decline in HIV cases in 2020.

“The drop in the number of STIs in 2020 is most probably linked to anti-Covid measures, such as travel restrictions, social distancing and the closure of bars and restaurants,” Oyvind Nilsen of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) said in a statement.

Nilsen told AFP a drop in testing due to the pandemic played only a marginal role in the decline.

Meanwhile the only STI to register a rise in cases was syphilis, up by 39 percent and qualified as “surprising” by NIPH. The infection is more common among homosexuals.

“One possible explanation for the rise in syphilis among men having sexual relations with other men — while gonorrhoea has seen a sharp decline — could be that syphilis has fewer symptoms, has a longer transmission phase than gonorrhoea and the infection is highly contagious,” said Nilsen.

The NIPH urged young people to use condoms to prevent STIs.

“We always have problems convincing young people to use condoms. Before they settle down with a stable partner, their sex life is largely made up of multiple short-term relationships and no condoms,” Nilsen told AFP.

“Condoms are like anti-Covid masks: they create a barrier against infections,” he added.

Norway, a country of 5.4 million, is among the countries least hard-hit by Covid-19, with 125,881 cases and 785 deaths.

The country had no excess mortality last year. On the contrary, the number of deaths declined by 73 in 2020 from the previous year, even though it was a leap year with one extra day, official statistics showed.

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Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office