Japanese health campaign featuring anime hero Sailor Moon fails to stem rapid rise of syphilis cases

More than 5,530 people were treated for the sexually transmitted disease last year, up 22 per cent from the previous year

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 6:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 9:17pm

A Japanese public health campaign that channelled the influence of anime superhero Sailor Moon has failed to stem a sharp increase in syphilis cases across the country.

According to statistics released by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, 5,534 people were treated for the sexually transmitted disease between January 1 and December 17 last year. That figure is up from 4,518 cases treated in the same period of the previous year.

Worryingly, the institute pointed out that the increase was most prominent among women in their 20s, although it has not identified reasons for the rising number of people contracting the illness.

There is also concern that the actual number of people with the infection is far higher.

In December 2016, the health ministry launched a campaign against STDs, targeting young women by using Sailor Moon to warn them of the dangers of unprotected sex.

The ministry printed 5,000 posters featuring the anime star declaring: “If you don’t get tested, I will punish you!”

Japan enlists anime icon Sailor Moon to promote safe sex as infection rate grows among young women

It also released 156,000 leaflets bearing the same message, as well as statistics on the surge in cases and information on where women can receive counselling and treatment. The ministry also distributed 60,000 condoms in heart-shaped wrappers bearing an image of Sailor Moon winking.

The campaign appears to have fallen on deaf ears, however. In 2010, there were 621 cases of syphilis reported across Japan, but that figure soared to 2,697 cases in 2015 and has now surpassed 5,000.

Of all the cases, 30 per cent were reported in Tokyo, prompting city authorities – reportedly desperate to halt the spread of the disease ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 – to set aside funds in its 2018 budget for more free and anonymous tests, and training for specialist doctors.

Syphilis is caused by the treponema pallidum bacteria and can be spread by unprotected sex, but also from an infected mother to an unborn child. The illness can be treated with antibiotics, but an untreated case can cause inflammation throughout the body, including the brain and heart.