Adult gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis prevalence, incidence, treatment and syndromic case reporting in South Africa: Estimates using the Spectrum-STI model, 1990-2017

PLoS One. 2018 Oct 15;13(10):e0205863. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205863. eCollection 2018.


Objectives: To estimate trends in prevalence and incidence of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in adult men and women in South Africa.

Methods: The Spectrum-STI tool estimated trends in prevalence and incidence of active syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, fitting South African prevalence data. Results were used, alongside programmatic surveillance data, to estimate trends in incident gonorrhea cases resistant to first-line treatment, and the reporting gap of symptomatic male gonorrhea and chlamydia cases treated but not reported as cases of urethritis syndrome.

Results: In 2017 adult (15-49 years) the estimated female and male prevalences for syphilis were 0.50% (95% CI: 0.32-0.80%) and 0.97% (0.19-2.28%), for gonorrhea 6.6% (3.8-10.8%) and 3.5% (1.7-6.1%), and for chlamydia 14.7% (9.9-21%) and 6.0% (3.8-10.4%), respectively. Between 1990 and 2017 the estimated prevalence of syphilis declined steadily in women and men, probably in part reflecting improved treatment coverage. For gonorrhea and chlamydia, estimated prevalence and incidence showed no consistent time trend in either women or men. Despite growing annual numbers of gonorrhea cases - reflecting population growth - the estimated number of first line treatment-resistant gonorrhea cases did not increase between 2008 and 2017, owing to changes in first-line antimicrobial treatment regimens for gonorrhea in 2008 and 2014/5. Case reporting completeness among treated male urethritis syndrome episodes was estimated at 10-28% in 2017.

Conclusion: South Africa continues to suffer a high STI burden. Improvements in access and quality of maternal, STI and HIV health care services likely contributed to the decline in syphilis prevalence. The lack of any decline in gonorrhea and chlamydia prevalence highlights the need to enhance STI services beyond clinic-based syndromic case management, to reinvigorate primary STI and HIV prevention and, especially for women, to screen for asymptomatic infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chlamydia Infections / epidemiology*
  • Chlamydia Infections / therapy*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gonorrhea / epidemiology*
  • Gonorrhea / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Syphilis / epidemiology*
  • Syphilis / therapy*
  • Urethritis / microbiology
  • Young Adult