Burden and Trends of Symptomatic Sexually Transmitted Infections in Malawi From 2000 to 2021: Comparative Analysis of Survey and Case Report Data

Sex Transm Dis. 2024 Mar 1;51(3):206-213. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001919. Epub 2024 Jan 3.


Background: In settings without etiologic testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), programs rely on STI symptom data to inform priorities. To evaluate whether self-reported STI symptoms in household surveys consistently represent the STI burden, we compared symptomatic infection rates between survey self-reporting and health facility case reporting in Malawi.

Methods: We analyzed self-reported symptoms and treatment seeking in the past year among sexually active adults from 4 Malawi Demographic and Health Surveys between 2000 and 2015. Bayesian mixed-effects models were used to estimate temporal trends, spatial variation, and sociodemographic determinants. Survey reporting was compared with health facility syndromic diagnoses between 2014 and 2021.

Results: In surveys, 11.0% (95% confidence interval, 10.7%-11.4%) of adults reported STI or STI-related symptoms in the last year, of whom 54.2% (52.8%-55.7%) sought treatment. In facilities, the mean annual symptomatic case diagnosis rate was 3.3%. Survey-reported treatment in the last year was 3.8% (95% credible interval, 2.3%-6.1%) for genital ulcer, 3.8% (2.0%-6.7%) for vaginal discharge, and 2.6% (1.2%-4.7%) for urethral discharge. Mean annual diagnosis rates at facilities were 0.5% for genital ulcer, 2.2% for vaginal discharge, and 2.0% for urethral discharge. Both data sources indicated a higher burden of symptoms among women, individuals older than 25 years, and those in Southern Malawi.

Conclusions: Survey and facility case reports indicated similar spatial and demographic patterns of STI symptom burden and care seeking, but implied large differences in the magnitude and relative burden of symptoms, particularly genital ulcer, which could affect program priorities. Targeted etiologic surveillance would improve interpretation of these data to enable more comprehensive STI surveillance.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Ulcer
  • Vaginal Discharge*