Forgotten but not gone: the continuing scourge of congenital syphilis

Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 Jul;2(7):432-6. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(02)00319-5.


Much attention is being given to the prevention of HIV infection in babies through transmission from the mother. By contrast, regrettably little concern is raised about the increasing numbers of babies born with congenital syphilis. In affluent countries congenital syphilis is very rare, but in many poor countries, including the newly independent countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the numbers are high and increasing. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, around 10% of pregnant women are affected by syphilis. The prevention of congenital syphilis is more cost-effective than the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The control of congenital syphilis could indirectly have a beneficial effect on the HIV epidemic by reducing susceptibility to infection. Although the procedure to prevent congenital syphilis through antenatal screening and treatment is well established, implementation of effective programmes in resource-poor settings has proved very difficult. A new and focused approach to tackling congenital syphilis is needed. It should combine different mixes of interventions, such as mass treatment, focused screening, and universal screening, according to the local epidemiology and available resources. A task-force approach to defining the most appropriate interventions together with support for some research should be a priority for support under the Global Health Fund.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Europe, Eastern / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Syphilis / diagnosis
  • Syphilis / drug therapy
  • Syphilis, Congenital / epidemiology
  • Syphilis, Congenital / prevention & control*
  • USSR / epidemiology
  • World Health Organization