News / Health

Many Syphilis-Infected Pregnant Women Not Being Diagnosed, Treated

FILE - A pregnant woman in Uganda, September 27, 2011.FILE - A pregnant woman in Uganda, September 27, 2011.
x
FILE - A pregnant woman in Uganda, September 27, 2011.
FILE - A pregnant woman in Uganda, September 27, 2011.
Jessica Berman
More than one million pregnant women worldwide are infected with syphilis.  Worse still is that many of them don’t know they're infected,  which puts them and their unborn child at serious risk. The problem, a new World Health Organization study finds, is that in many regions of the world, testing and treatment services for the venereal disease are not as widely available as they should be.  

Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease that, according to WHO estimates, infected 1.4 million women globally in 2008.  Using data from 97 countries and 147 pre-natal clinics, investigators found that only 30 percent of women in Africa and the Mediterranean were adequately tested and treated for the disease. The percentage of women diagnosed and treated for syphilis in Europe was 70 percent.

Researchers say syphilis infections caused some 520,000 bad pregnancy outcomes, including 215,000 stillbirths, 90,000 infant deaths and 65,000 pre-term or low-weight babies. The disease was also responsible for 150,000 birth defects, according to researchers, who used a mathematical model to arrive at their conclusions.

Lead researcher Lori Newman says the bacterium which causes syphilis crosses the placenta, affecting the fetus at a critical time of development.

“At about 16 or 17 weeks of pregnancy, when the baby’s immune system starts to kick in and become active, the baby’s and the mother’s response to the infection is to cause a stillbirth or to cause severe organ damage," said Newman.

Newman, an analyst with the World Health Organization in Geneva, led the study. Newman said she is most troubled by the fact that an estimated two-thirds of the women who endured bad pregnancy outcomes had visited pre-natal clinics but were not tested for syphilis, which is easy to treat with antibiotics.

“People know historically that syphilis was a serious disease," she said. "But people thought once penicillin was invented, that it was a disease we had conquered.  But it’s important for these data [to] be shared with the world to make people understand that syphilis is still killing babies and affecting women and men all over the world.”

Newman says researchers are in the process of updating their data to encourage early diagnosis and treatment of syphilis in expectant mothers.

The study assessing the global burden of syphilis in pregnant women is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs