March 7, 2002
In the most recent city rankings, released Tuesday in San Diego at the National STD Conference, Newark had the ninth-highest incidence of syphilis in the country in 2000. The city is among a handful of US cities where the STD has been on the rise even as it decreased nationally.
CDC officials also reported that Newark had the 12th-highest incidence of gonorrhea in 2000. Gonorrhea has leveled off nationally, but most of the cities with the highest rates in 1999 had even higher rates in 2000.
"Increases in some areas remind us that continued vigilance is required in every community if we truly hope to eliminate this disease," said Susan DeLisle, who oversees STD programs for the CDC.
"We're aware of these numbers, and we're working to reduce the sexually transmitted disease rates across the state, with especially intensive efforts in Newark and Camden," said Marilyn Riley, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
New Jersey gets $2.5 million in federal dollars to combat the spread of STDs. For a new project coordinating federal, state and local officials, Newark gets another $250,000 a year specifically to eliminate syphilis.
Newark health officials and medical professionals attributed the persistence of STDs to cutbacks in state and federal dollars and community apathy fostered by the belief that HIV is treatable. "We put a lot of investment in HIV education, but it seems that the other sexually transmitted diseases, if not facilitators for HIV, are just as equally important, and they're left by the wayside instead of trying to link them together in one coordinated push," said Jeremias Murillo, medical director of epidemiology and infection control at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
Federal officials agreed that the STDs' resistance to prevention is tied to problems with access to health care and physicians who fail to screen for the diseases. The persistence of such diseases worries scientists because of their close connection to HIV. Untreated STDs can cause skin lesions that make HIV easier to receive and transmit, said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, who leads prevention efforts at the CDC.