Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine has received a $6.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study new methods to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of syphilis in resource-poor countries.
“The study will provide a unique opportunity to find better ways to implement screening and treatment for syphilis in pregnancy and to improve prenatal care,” said Dr. Pierre Buekens, principal investigator and dean of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Nearly 1.5 million pregnant women are infected with syphilis each year. If untreated, it significantly increases the risks for stillbirths and other adverse outcomes. Syphilis is easy to detect and treat, but interventions during pregnancy are often underused in resource-poor countries.
The study, which will be performed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, will address barriers to care, including stigmatization of the sexually transmitted disease, lack of awareness among healthcare providers, limited access to testing equipment and scarcity of antibiotic treatments.
The study will evaluate a multifaceted intervention that will provide point-of-care rapid tests and treatment kits along with reminders, monitoring, and feedback to health providers. Local opinion leaders also will promote the significance of screening and treatment.
“We believe that the increased use of syphilis screening and treatment will improve outcomes and significantly reduce the number of congenital syphilis cases,” Buekens said. “The intervention will be designed to be scalable in low-resources settings and integrated in existing prenatal care systems, if proven effective.”
The data center for the study will be at the Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy in Argentina; the World Health Organization will provide technical support for the project. The study is part of a global effort to find better ways to implement effective health solutions in low- and middle-income countries.