WHO study highlights high global prevalence of syphilis among gays

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By Cecilia Ologunagba

NEW YORK – World Organisation (WHO) study has highlighted an unacceptably high global prevalence of syphilis among men who have sex with men.

The world body, in the new study on “Prevalence of syphilis among men who have sex with men: A global systematic review and meta-analysis from 2000 to 2020’’ also emphasised ways to eliminate the infection.

The information, which is on its website, underscored the need to advance stalled progress toward eliminating syphilis as a public threat by 2030.

Syphilis, a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), is caused by the bacteria call Treponema Pallidum.

The study lead by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK and published in the Lancet Global on Friday presents the first global syphilis prevalence estimate among men who have sex with men.

The statement quoted Dr Meg Doherty, the Director of WHO’s Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programmes, as saying “structural barrier in treating syphilis must be addressed.

“This first review of global syphilis prevalence among men who have sex with men highlights the urgent need to improve access to syphilis testing, treatment and prevention services.’’

“Stakeholders must address structural barriers, like discrimination and violence; improve sexuality education, and expand access and delivery of syphilis testing and immediate treatment for all populations at higher risk of infection.”

According to WHO, findings from the global review shows that men who have sex with men have high burden of syphilis infection, with significant variation across countries and regions.

“The global pooled prevalence of syphilis among men who have sex with men was 7.5 per cent during 2000-2020 (95 per cent CI: 7.0-8.0), as compared to the most recent estimate of syphilis among men in the general population in 2016, 0.5 per cent (95 per cent UI: 0.4-0.6).

“The proportion of men who have sex with men with syphilis was highest in settings where prevalence was greater than 5 per cent and in and -Middle Income Countries (LMIC).

“Sub-analysis showed that pooled prevalence estimates were higher between 2015 to 2020, compared to the prior five years in half of the global regions assessed.’’

The UN agency stated that several countries were reporting high and sustained increase in syphilis infection among men who have sex with men.

Globally, it stated an estimated seven million new syphilis in 2020.

WHO has set ambitious target to reduce incidence of syphilis by 90 per cent by 2030, but the global response has been slow.

“While there have been modest reductions in congenital syphilis as a result of the scale-up of interventions in antenatal care, such as syphilis screening and treatment for pregnant women, there is an urgent need to galvanise momentum.

“There is an urgent need to galvanise momentum and better serve other priority populations disproportionally impacted by the disease.

“Syphilis is preventable and curable, with cost-effective and, in certain contexts, cost-saving interventions,’’ it stated.

It further stated that easy to and inexpensive point-of-care tests included blood-based rapid tests that produce in less than 20 minutes, and products that test syphilis and using a single platform.

“Treatment with injectable benzathine penicillin is simple to administer and inexpensive.

“A major challenge is that populations at higher risk for syphilis, particularly in LMIC, are often not able to access services due to structural barriers, including criminalisation, policy and legal barriers, discrimination and violence.’’ (NAN)