In 2007 the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the global initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis (congenital syphilis, or CS). To assess progress towards the goal of <50 CS cases per 100,000 live births, we generated regional and global estimates of maternal and congenital syphilis for 2016 and updated the 2012 estimates.
Maternal syphilis estimates were generated using the Spectrum-STI model, fitted to sentinel surveys and routine testing of pregnant women during antenatal care (ANC) and other representative population data. Global and regional estimates of CS used the same approach as previous WHO estimates.
The estimated global maternal syphilis prevalence in 2016 was 0.69% (95% confidence interval: 0.57–0.81%) resulting in a global CS rate of 473 (385–561) per 100,000 live births and 661,000 (538,000–784,000) total CS cases, including 355,000 (290,000–419,000) adverse birth outcomes (ABO) and 306,000 (249,000–363,000) non-clinical CS cases (infants without clinical signs born to un-treated mothers). The ABOs included 143,000 early fetal deaths and stillbirths, 61,000 neonatal deaths, 41,000 preterm or low-birth weight births, and 109,000 infants with clinical CS. Of these ABOs– 203,000 (57%) occurred in pregnant women attending ANC but not screened for syphilis; 74,000 (21%) in mothers not enrolled in ANC, 55,000 (16%) in mothers screened but not treated, and 23,000 (6%) in mothers enrolled, screened and treated. The revised 2012 estimates were 0.70% (95% CI: 0.63–0.77%) maternal prevalence, and 748,000 CS cases (539 per 100,000 live births) including 397,000 (361,000–432,000) ABOs. The estimated decrease in CS case rates between 2012 and 2016 reflected increased access to ANC and to syphilis screening and treatment.
Congenital syphilis decreased worldwide between 2012 and 2016, although maternal prevalence was stable. Achieving global CS elimination, however, will require improving access to early syphilis screening and treatment in ANC, clinically monitoring all women diagnosed with syphilis and their infants, improving partner management, and reducing syphilis prevalence in the general population by expanding testing, treatment and partner referral beyond ANC.
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