A prospective study of all cases of congenitally acquired syphilis diagnosed at Goroka Base Hospital was conducted between January 1998 and December 1999. 67 affected neonates and children were seen, of whom 19 died during the first admission and 3 died during the period of follow-up. Congenital syphilis caused 5.5% of 994 neonatal admissions, but 22% of all neonatal deaths. The major risk factor for death in affected babies was low birthweight. A birthweight of less than 2 kg had an odds ratio for death of 30.0 (95% confidence interval 6.90-131.1). During the time of the study 5385 women attended antenatal care at Goroka Base Hospital, of whom 382 had both positive VDRL and TPHA tests. The incidence of syphilis in women attending antenatal care was 7.1%. Syphilis is a major cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity and a major cause of morbidity among women of childbearing age in the Eastern Highlands Province. Current antenatal screening is inadequate, covering less than 30% of pregnant women. New ways to extend syphilis screening and treatment to all affected pregnant women are urgently required and must be formally assessed.