Monday, May 2, 2011

Far More Infants Die of Preventable, Treatable Syphilis Than HIV

One of the results of the exceptionalization of HIV is that other health conditions end up being ignored, including sexually transmitted infections (STI). Given the HIV industry's obsession with sexually transmitted HIV, it might be expected that STIs such as syphilis might get a bit of attention.

However, many women can be tested and treated for HIV, and receive prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT), without being tested for syphilis and other STIs. These preventable and treatable STIs can be passed on to children, despite most women attending antenatal care facilities at least once during their pregnancy.

WHO estimates that two million pregnant women are infected with syphilis every year and about 1.2 million of them will transmit the infection to their child. Far fewer children are infected with HIV. And the number of deaths from syphilis during pregnancy is higher than the number of infants infected with HIV.

At one time, a lot of attention was given to treating STIs as a means of reducing HIV tranmsission. Trials showed that this had very little impact on HIV transmission and a recent Cochrane Review makes it clear that STI control is not an effective HIV prevention strategy.

But, importantly, the review concluded that there are "other compelling reasons why STI treatment services should be strengthened, and the available evidence suggests that when an intervention is accepted it can substantially improve quality of services provided."

Syphilis and many other STIs are preventable and treatable, yet they often seem to be ignored. And it sounds as if they have only received much recent attention because of the possibility that they may reduce HIV transmission.

Surely STIs should be prevented and treated where possible because they are diseases, not just because this might have an impact on HIV transmission? HIV is debilitating and incurable, but other STIs are debilitating and curable.

Whether STI treatment has an impact on HIV transmission or not, people should not have to suffer from them or risk passing them on to their partners and their children, especially when this is entirely avoidable. They have a right to prevention and treatment for all diseases, not just HIV.


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