A national evaluation using standardised patient actors to assess STI services in public sector clinical sentinel surveillance facilities in South Africa
Quality concerns in STI service delivery and missed opportunities for integration with HIV testing and prevention services in South Africa have been well documented. This national evaluation aimed to evaluate current utilisation and adherence to national STI guidelines, including partner notification and integration with HIV services, for diagnosis and management of STIs.Methods
Facility surveys assessed infrastructure and resource availability, and standardised patient (SP) assessments evaluated quality of STI care in 50 public clinics in nine provinces in South Africa. The primary outcome was the proportion of SPs receiving essential STI care, defined as: offered an HIV test, condoms, partner notification counselling and correct syndromic treatment. Weighted proportions were generated, and SP findings were compared by gender using χ2 tests with Rao-Scott correction.Results
More than 80% of facilities reported medications in stock, with the exceptions of oral cefixime (48.3%), oral erythromycin (75.1%) and paediatric syrups. Among 195 SP encounters, 18.7% (95% CI 10.7% to 30.5%) received all hypothesised essential STI services: offered HIV test (67.1%), offered condoms (31.4%), partner notification counselling (70.2%) and recommended syndromic treatment (60.7%). Men were more likely than women to be offered all services (25.1% vs 12.3%, p=0.023), recommended treatment (70.7% vs 50.9%, p=0.013) and partner notification counselling (79.9% vs 60.6%, p=0.020). Only 6.3% of providers discussed male circumcision with male SPs, and 26.3% discussed family planning with female SPs.Conclusions
This evaluation of STI services across South Africa found gaps in the availability of medications, adherence to STI guidelines, condom provision and prevention messaging. Limited integration with HIV services for this high-risk population was a missed opportunity. Quality of STI care should continue to be monitored, and interventions to improve quality should be prioritised as part of national strategic HIV and primary healthcare agendas.