by Work the World

The BBC have reported that hundreds of thousands of babies' lives could be saved each year if pregnant women were screened for syphilis.

The disease causes 500,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths globally, but the majority of these are in  Africa. This figure was backed up by a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases. A study of 41,000 women showed that testing and antibiotics could more than halve the number of deaths - something that could be cheap and cost-effective to put in place.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that results in sores, a rash and ultimately serious damage to the heart, brain and eyes, and can lead to death. It can also be passed from mother to child in the womb - a condition known as congenital syphilis.
Most countries have policies of screening pregnant women, but this does not always take place in some rural and poor parts of the world.
It is thought that fewer than one in eight women is actually screened for syphilis during pregnancy despite the fact that more than two million women are pregnant with syphilis each year. This has serious complications in more than two-thirds of cases, resulting in stillbirth, deaths of newborns and low birthweight as well as in the classic symptoms of syphilis. 

A group of researchers at University College London analysed previous studies and found that there could be a 58% decrease in stillbirths as well as a similar reduction in deaths in the first few weeks of life if screening took place. Dr Sarah Hawkes, from University College London, said screening had "failed because of a lack of will to screen".

Professor David Mabey and Professor Rosanna Peeling, from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in an accompanying article that screening cost $1.44 (£0.89) per woman.
"If all pregnant women were screened, and those who tested positive were treated with one dose of benzathine penicillin before 28 weeks' gestation, no stillbirths or neonatal deaths would be due to syphilis.... This is one of the most cost-effective health interventions."
Work the World midwifery students regularly come across cases of syphilis in the delivery ward.

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