Stalled Progress Against Syphilis

An estimated 7.5% of men who have sex with men globally have syphilis, a new study shows—an unacceptably high percentage that should serve as a wake-up call to step up efforts against the preventable, curable disease, the WHO reports.
The meta-analysis of 275 studies involving more than 600,000 participants across 77 countries, published in the Lancet Global Health, reveals:

  • 15X higher syphilis prevalence among MSM than men in the general population from 2000-2020 

  • Highest prevalence in Latin America and the Caribbean region (10.6%); lowest in Australia and New Zealand (1.9%) 

While scaled-up screening and treatment for pregnant women have helped reduce the burden of congenital syphilis, other priority populations have been left out, the WHO notes.

A key reason:

Structural barriers to services—including criminalization, policy and legal barriers, discrimination and violence—especially for higher-risk populations in low- and middle-income countries.
Reaching a global goal to reduce syphilis incidence by 90% by 2030 will require urgent action, write Carlos F Cáceres and co-authors in a companion commentary, including:  

  • Full integration of biobehavioral STI prevention and control programs with HIV prevention

  • Development of new treatment and prevention options

  • Eliminating homophobia and the criminalization of homosexuality
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