Sex Transm Infect 80:379-385 doi:10.1136/sti.2003.007575
  • Epidemiology

Investigating ethnic inequalities in the incidence of sexually transmitted infections: mathematical modelling study

  1. K M E Turner1,
  2. G P Garnett1,
  3. A C Ghani1,
  4. J A C Sterne2,
  5. N Low2
  1. 1Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, St Mary’s Campus, Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK
  2. 2Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Nicola Low
 Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK;
  • Accepted 24 February 2004


Objectives: To investigate ethnic differences in rates of gonorrhoea using empirical sexual behaviour data in a simple mathematical model. To explore the impact of different intervention strategies in this simulated population.

Methods: The findings from cross sectional studies of gonorrhoea rates and sexual behaviour in three ethnic groups in south east London were used to determine the parameters for a deterministic, mathematical model of gonorrhoea transmission dynamics, in a population stratified by sex, sexual activity (rate of partner change), and ethnic group (white, black African, and black Caribbean). We compared predicted and observed rates of infection and simulated the effects of targeted and population-wide intervention strategies.

Results: In model simulations the reported sexual behaviours and mixing patterns generated major differences in the rates of gonorrhoea experienced by each subpopulation. The fit of the model to observed data was sensitive to assumptions about the degree of mixing by level of sexual activity, the numbers of sexual partnerships reported by men and women, and the degree to which observed data underestimate female infection rates. Interventions to reduce duration of infection were most effective when targeted at black Caribbeans.

Conclusions: Average measures of sexual behaviour in large populations are inadequate descriptors for the epidemiology of gonorrhoea. The consistency between the model results and empirical data shows that profound differences in gonorrhoea rates between ethnic groups can be explained by modest differences in a limited number of sexual behaviours and mixing patterns. Targeting effective services to particular ethnic groups can have a disproportionate influence on disease reduction in the whole community.