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      Prevalence of Syphilis among Pregnant Women in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

      1 , 2 ,
      BioMed Research International

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          Syphilis is one of the most imperative STIs, caused by the spirochete Treponema pallidum. During pregnancy it is associated with disastrous health outcomes in the newborn. In sub-Saharan Africa, study findings on the prevalence of syphilis among pregnant women are highly dispersed and inconsistent. The aim of the current review is to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of syphilis in sub-Saharan Africa among pregnant women.


          Systematic review and meta-analysis.

          Data Sources

          Databases including MEDLINE, PubMed, Cochrane Library, Google Scholar, and HINARI and reference lists of previous prevalence studies were systematically searched for relevant literature from January 1999 to November 2018. Results were presented in forest plot, tables, and figures. Random-effects model was used for the meta-analysis. For the purpose of this review, a case of syphilis was defined as positive treponemal or nontreponemal tests among pregnant women.

          Data Extraction

          Our search gave a total of 262 citations from all searched databases. Of these, 44 studies fulfilling the inclusion criteria and comprising 175,546 subjects were finally included.


          The pooled prevalence of syphilis among pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa was 2.9% (95%CI: 2.4%-3.4%). East and Southern African regions had a higher syphilis prevalence among pregnant women (3.2%, 95% CI: 2.3%-4.2% and 3.6%, 95%CI: 2.0%-5.1%, respectively) than the sub-Saharan African pooled prevalence. The prevalence of syphilis among pregnant women in most parts of the region seemed to have decreased over the past 20 years except for the East African region. However, prevalence did not significantly differ by region and time period.


          This review showed a high prevalence of syphilis in sub-Saharan Africa among pregnant women. The evidence suggests strengthening the screening program during pregnancy as part of the care package during antenatal care visits. Programs focusing on primary prevention of syphilis in women should also be strengthened.

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          Most cited references61

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          Syphilis and HIV: a dangerous combination.

          HIV and syphilis affect similar patient groups and co-infection is common. All patients presenting with syphilis should be offered HIV testing and all HIV-positive patients should be regularly screened for syphilis. Syphilis agent may enhance the transmission of the other, probably through increased incidence of genital ulcers. Detection and treatment of syphilis can, therefore, help to reduce HIV transmission. Syphilis may present with non-typical features in the HIV-positive patient: there is a higher rate of symptomless primary syphilis and proportionately more HIV-positive patients present with secondary disease. Secondary infection may be more aggressive and there is an increased rate of early neurological and ophthalmic involvement. Diagnosis is generally made with serology but the clinician should be aware of the potential for false-negative serology in both primary and, less commonly, in secondary syphilis. All HIV-positive patients should be treated with a penicillin-based regimen that is adequate for the treatment of neurosyphilis. Relapse of infection is more likely in the HIV-positive patient and careful follow-up is required.
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            Sexually transmitted infections in pregnancy: prevalence, impact on pregnancy outcomes, and approach to treatment in developing countries.

            Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common in the developing world. Management of STIs in pregnancy in many developing countries has, however, been complicated by the lack of simple and affordable diagnostic tests. This review examines the prevalence and impact on pregnancy outcome of STIs in developing countries and recommends approaches to management of STIs in pregnancy for resource poor settings.
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              Prevalence of malaria and sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections in pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review.

              Malaria and sexually transmitted infections/reproductive tract infections (STIs/RTIs) in pregnancy are direct and indirect causes of stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight, and maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of malaria and STI/RTI prevalence estimates among pregnant women attending antenatal care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry, and reference lists were searched for studies reporting malaria, syphilis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, Trichomonas vaginalis, or bacterial vaginosis among pregnant women attending antenatal care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa. Included studies were conducted in 1990-2011 with open enrollment. Studies from South Africa, where malaria is no longer endemic, were excluded. Point prevalence estimates were corrected for diagnostic precision. A random-effects model meta-analysis was applied to produce pooled prevalence estimates. A total of 171 studies met inclusion criteria, providing 307 point prevalence estimates for malaria or STIs/RTIs and including a total of 340 904 women. The pooled prevalence estimates (with 95% CIs and number of women with positive diagnosis) among studies in 1990-2011 in East and Southern Africa were as follows: syphilis, 4.5% (3.9%-5.1%; n = 8346 positive diagnoses), N gonorrhoeae, 3.7% (2.8%-4.6%; n = 626), C trachomatis, 6.9% (5.1%-8.6%; n = 350), T vaginalis, 29.1% (20.9%-37.2%; n = 5502), bacterial vaginosis, 50.8% (43.3%-58.4%; n = 4280), peripheral malaria, 32.0% (25.9%-38.0%; n = 11 688), and placental malaria, 25.8% (19.7%-31.9%; n = 1388). West and Central Africa prevalence estimates were as follows: syphilis, 3.5% (1.8%-5.2%; n = 851), N gonorrhoeae, 2.7% (1.7%-3.7%; n = 73), C trachomatis, 6.1% (4.0%-8.3%; n = 357), T vaginalis, 17.8% (12.4%-23.1%; n = 822), bacterial vaginosis, 37.6% (18.0%-57.2%; n = 1208), peripheral malaria, 38.2% (32.3%-44.1%; n = 12 242), and placental malaria, 39.9% (34.2%-45.7%; n = 4658). The dual prevalence of malaria and STIs/RTIs in pregnancy among women who attend antenatal care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa is considerable, with the combined prevalence of curable STIs/RTIs being equal to, if not greater than, malaria.

                Author and article information

                Biomed Res Int
                Biomed Res Int
                BioMed Research International
                16 July 2019
                : 2019
                : 4562385
                1School of Laboratory Science, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Hawassa University, Hawassa, Ethiopia
                2Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Hawassa University, Hawassa, Ethiopia
                Author notes

                Academic Editor: Lucia Lopalco

                Author information
                Copyright © 2019 Siraj Hussen and Birkneh Tilahun Tadesse.

                This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 17 April 2019
                : 20 June 2019
                : 27 June 2019
                Review Article


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