Africa in the 1980s appears to be facing problems associated with syphilis and gonorrhoea during pregnancy similar in severity and magnitude to those faced by the western world in the early 1900s. From a review of published reports, the prevalence of syphilis seroreactivity in pregnant women in many parts of Africa is at least 10%. Assuming this level of seroreactivity, we estimate that 5% to 8% of all pregnancies surviving past 12 weeks will have an adverse outcome caused by syphilis, such as spontaneous abortion, perinatal or infant death, or a living infant with syphilis. Our findings on gonorrhoea during pregnancy are almost as startling. The prevalence of gonorrhoea in pregnant women in many parts of Africa is at least 10% and it approaches 20% in some areas. The incidence of gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum in neonates appears to be between 2% and 4%. We recommend commitment of health resources to initiatives to prevent and control sexually transmitted disease in Africa and additional research into the cost effectiveness of different prevention and control approaches.