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Impact of the first COVID-19 lockdown on male urethritis syndrome services in South Africa


Objectives Globally, there have been significant changes in utilisation of STI testing and treatment services during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 in countries that use syndromic STI management is not documented. This study used routine STI surveillance data to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on utilisation of STI syndromic management services during the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic in South Africa.

Methods We conducted a time-trend analysis of male urethritis syndrome (MUS) cases reported through routine national STI surveillance in South Africa and COVID-19 data available through the national dashboard. We defined three time periods (prelockdown, lockdown and postlockdown) based on COVID-19 response levels. Trends in MUS reporting was compared between these time periods at national and provincial level and with the number of positive COVID-19 tests in a district.

Results An overall reduction of 27% in the national number of MUS cases reported (monthly average from 27 117 to 20 107) occurred between the pre-COVID-19 and COVID-19 lockdown periods (p<0.001), with a range of 18%–39% between the nine provinces. Postlockdown, case numbers returned almost to the prelockdown level (26 304; −3.0%). No significant difference was found in number of MUS cases between the prelockdown and postlockdown periods. A weak correlation (R2=0,21) was identified between the change in number of MUS reported and COVID-19 positive tests in a district.

Conclusions A strong reduction in reported MUS cases for syndromic management was observed during the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic and lockdown across all provinces in South Africa. This is likely the result of various healthcare system and service delivery factors associated with lockdown measures. The observed return of MUS cases reported to prelockdown measures is reassuring.

  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology

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