Government Must Improve Policies and surveillance to Address Problem.
As the world focuses on major causes of preterm birth on World Prematurity Day (November 17), a new report from the international nonprofit PATH, with support from the Nigerian nonprofit, Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH), highlights the toll that parent-to-child transmission of syphilis has on mothers and babies. The report, “Congenital Syphilis in Nigeria, Zambia, and India: Identifying Policy Pathways to Eliminate Mother-to-Child Transmission of Syphilis,” details the severe health issues caused by congenital syphilis, which range from early fetal loss to stillbirth and premature birth.
Nigeria has one of the highest burdens of maternal syphilis of any African country, with an estimated 75,000 pregnant women with syphilis in 2012, resulting in thousands of poor health outcomes for their newborns. However, according to the report, solutions exist. Because congenital syphilis is easily detectable with rapid point-of-care diagnostics and easily treatable with antibiotics, no mother or newborn should suffer.
After years of neglect, the Nigerian government has begun to focus some attention on this issue and is making progress in reducing cases through policies and testing. However, no national strategy for congenital syphilis elimination exists and low levels of funding at the state level have hindered congenital syphilis reduction efforts.
“Congenital Syphilis is an absolutely avoidable affliction on our mothers and newborns. It is time for Nigerian decision-makers to step up and begin efforts in earnest to reduce this burden,” said Professor Oladapo A Ladipo, President/CEO or ARFH.
The report outlines specific actions decision-makers should take to ensure that all mothers are tested and treated, so that no babies suffer from syphilis. These recommendations include:
- Developing a national strategy to eliminate congenital syphilis along with specific state guidelines on elimination.
- Strengthening data surveillance to inform decision-making and strategy updates.
While the recommendations require concerted efforts, the report is confident that they are feasible and will be crucial in Nigeria’s improvement of maternal and newborn health. The paper concludes that “new technologies, awareness, and commitments mean that elimination is within sight. To ensure progress, governments and global stakeholders must develop strong policies and strategies aligned with existing programs, advocate for political prioritization that includes clear national targets, finance diagnostics and treatment, and consistently implement policies throughout the health care system.”
Dr Abiodun Hassan, Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator of ARFH who was the principal investigator of the research in Nigeria stated that “government, policy makers and clinicians should give priority to the screening and treatment of maternal syphilis”.
The Head, Prevention at the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCP), Dr Chukwuma Anyaike, said that “the policies are available and there are various platforms to raise priority for Congenital Syphilis. There is need for the country to lead and have ownership of any initiative related to Congenital Syphilis”.
About Association for Reproductive and Family Health
ARFH is one of the leading indigenous non-profit organisations in Nigeria committed improving the quality of life of underserved and vulnerable communities by promoting access to quality health care and harnessing community capacities for sustainable development.
PATH is the leader in global health innovation. An international nonprofit, PATH saves lives and improves health, especially among women and children. PATH accelerates innovation across five platforms–vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, system and service innovations–that harness our entrepreneurial insights, scientific and public health expertise, and passion for health equity. By mobilizing partners around the world, PATH takes innovation to scale, working alongside countries primarily in Africa and Asia to tackle their greatest health needs. With these key partners, PATH delivers measureable results that disrupt the cycle of poor health. Learn more at www.path.org.