Hivpoint employee presents materials for European Testing Week. Photo: Mika Ruusunen

Health & wellbeing

Sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing is not being carried out according to recommendations in public health centers, and as a result, STI rates are increasing. This was the conclusion of a study conducted by Hivpoint in the fall of 2022, which aimed to assess access to STI testing in public health centers across Finland. The study found that only two out of 20 health centers provided adequate guidance for STI testing.

Three health centers denied access to HIV testing altogether, and testing for other STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, was not carried out correctly in some centers. Given that the number of syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV infections in 2022 was almost double the usual annual number, testing for STIs needs to be improved in primary healthcare. The increase in infection rates has continued into 2023.

The European HIV testing week is celebrated from May 15th to May 22nd, and it aims to encourage healthcare providers across Europe to improve HIV testing practices. The study by Hivpoint showed that many health centers denied access to STI testing for asymptomatic individuals, even though many STIs can be asymptomatic for extended periods. HIV and other STIs can cause serious health problems if left untreated and can be transmitted to others unknowingly. In particular, HIV testing should never be denied based on lack of symptoms because HIV infection can be asymptomatic for years. Untreated HIV infection can lead to life-threatening AIDS, so it is essential to diagnose infections as early as possible. According to the HIV testing recommendation by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), HIV testing should always be available without a referral, free of charge, and anonymously in primary healthcare centers. Additionally, clients should always be referred for an HIV test if there is a suspicion of an STI.

In Finland, an estimated 800 individuals are living with undiagnosed HIV infection. The only way to identify these infections is to improve HIV testing. A significant proportion of new HIV infections, up to 63%, are diagnosed at a late stage when the infection has progressed to advanced stages or AIDS. Therefore, primary healthcare testing practices need to be improved to detect undiagnosed HIV and other STI infections. Early diagnosis is essential to provide infected individuals with appropriate treatment and stop the increase in infection rates.

One area for improvement identified by the study is the knowledge and skills of healthcare professionals in asking the right questions during STI testing. Health regions need to ensure that their staff is up-to-date on the latest testing practices through training, internal guidelines, and proper orientation. Standardized testing practices and guidelines need to be developed and made easily accessible to healthcare staff in health centers. This will ensure that everyone has access to the testing they need, regardless of where they live or what health center they attend.

In conclusion, the study by Hivpoint highlights the importance of improving access to STI testing in public health centers in Finland. The European HIV testing week provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to reflect on their testing practices and strive to improve access to testing for all individuals. By identifying undiagnosed STI infections and providing appropriate treatment, we can stop the spread of infections and improve the health outcomes for all.