Alarm as more pregnant women test positive for Syphilis 

Teen pregnancy

Four out of ten pregnant women who sought care last year tested positive for syphilis, a new study has shown.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Four out of ten pregnant women who sought care last year tested positive for syphilis, a new study has shown.

The data contained in the World Aids Day report 2022 to be released today revealed that the number of pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis increased by 35 per cent from 10,000 in 2018 to 14,873 in 2021.

The report dubbed, it is a race against time by the National Syndemic Disease Control Council indicated that the number of women and infants affected by syphilis remains unacceptably high

In seven counties, Homabay, Kericho, Narok, Nandi, Busia, Baringo and Migori the syphilis positivity rates among women attending the antenatal clinic are higher than two per cent.

Nairobi County recorded the highest number of women with syphilis at 1,789 followed by Homa Bay at 1, 453,  Nakuru at 794, Kericho at 759, Narok at 753, Migori at 750,  Kajiado at 542, Turkana at 525, Meru 488, Nandi 452, Busia 461 with Baringo recording 314.

Some of the counties with the least numbers included Lamu and Marsabit recording only eight cases each, Kirinyaga nine cases, Wajir 12, West Pokot 21, Samburu 24, Taita Taveta 26, Embu 35, Makueni recorded 72 cases.

“It is crucial that all women are provided with early syphilis screening and treatment as part of high-quality antenatal care, to enable a positive pregnancy experience. In addition, all women diagnosed with syphilis and their infants require treatment,” says the study.

Mother-to-child transmission

Kenya has intensified efforts to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis. 

Kenya introduced the HIV and syphilis test kit used in antenatal clinics in March 2018. Every woman visiting antenatal clinics has to be tested for both HIV and Syphilis.

National Syndemic Disease Control Council CEO Ruth Masha had earlier confirmed a resurgence of sexually transmitted diseases despite the availability of effective treatments and reliable prevention strategies.

“Two decades ago, we were not recording any case of syphilis, unfortunately, we are seeing a comeback and something needs to be done. This is not only in women attending the antenatal but also in teenagers,” she said.
“This is dangerous because it is the second-most common cause of stillbirths in the world. Even one mother testing positive for the disease should be a cause for concern,” she said.

A report published in the Frontier in Public Health Journal last year also found a worrying spike in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents in the country. 

The study conducted in Thika last year reveals that one in eight adolescents ages between 16 and 20 tested positive for gonorrhoea, chlamydia trachomatis, trichomonas vaginalis (TV), and vaginal gram stains for vaginal dysbiosis.

Read: A million get sexually transmitted infections daily, WHO study shows
Syphilis is a bacterial disease that can be passed on through sex without a condom, sharing needles and injecting equipment and from mother to child during pregnancy.

Most common STD

Syphilis generally presents as a painless ulcer on the genital area, three to six weeks after sexual contact with an infected person. 

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections globally, with approximately six million new cases occurring annually. Mother-to-child transmission of syphilis, or congenital syphilis, is usually devastating to the fetus if the maternal infection is not detected.

Most untreated primary and secondary syphilis infections in pregnancy result in severe adverse pregnancy outcomes. In early maternal syphilis, the risk of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis can be up to 80 per cent.

Early diagnosis and adequate treatment of the mother, ideally before the second trimester, can quickly cure the fetus and minimize adverse outcomes.

Dr John Ongéch, a leading obstetrician and gynaecologist in the country, told the Nation that the number of infections is alarming because gonorrhoea and chlamydia can inflict serious damage to a girl’s reproductive system and cause infertility.