Background: Untreated syphilis in pregnancy is associated with adverse clinical outcomes for the infant. Most syphilis infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where coverage of antenatal screening for syphilis is inadequate. Recently introduced point-of-care syphilis tests have high accuracy and demonstrate potential to increase coverage of antenatal screening. However, country-specific cost-effectiveness data for these tests are limited. The objective of this analysis was to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and budget impact of antenatal syphilis screening for 43 countries in SSA and estimate the impact of universal screening on stillbirths, neonatal deaths, congenital syphilis, and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) averted.
Methods and findings: The decision analytic model reflected the perspective of the national health care system and was based on the sensitivity (86%) and specificity (99%) reported for the immunochromatographic strip (ICS) test. Clinical outcomes of infants born to syphilis-infected mothers on the end points of stillbirth, neonatal death, and congenital syphilis were obtained from published sources. Treatment was assumed to consist of three injections of benzathine penicillin. Country-specific inputs included the antenatal prevalence of syphilis, annual number of live births, proportion of women with at least one antenatal care visit, per capita gross national income, and estimated hourly nurse wages. In all 43 sub-Saharan African countries analyzed, syphilis screening is highly cost-effective, with an average cost/DALY averted of US$11 (range: US$2-US$48). Screening remains highly cost-effective even if the average prevalence falls from the current rate of 3.1% (range: 0.6%-14.0%) to 0.038% (range: 0.002%-0.113%). Universal antenatal screening of pregnant women in clinics may reduce the annual number of stillbirths by up to 64,000, neonatal deaths by up to 25,000, and annual incidence of congenital syphilis by up to 32,000, and avert up to 2.6 million DALYs at an estimated annual direct medical cost of US$20.8 million.
Conclusions: Use of ICS tests for antenatal syphilis screening is highly cost-effective in SSA. Substantial reduction in DALYs can be achieved at a relatively modest budget impact. In SSA, antenatal programs should expand access to syphilis screening using the ICS test. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.