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High rate of treponematosis among pregnant IDP women

A pregnant woman at the Notre Dame Dulawan evacuation centre in Datu Piang, where some 300 families or 1,500 people are sheltering
(David Swanson/IRIN)

Health experts report a high rate of treponematosis among pregnant displaced women in conflict-hit Mindanao.  


Treponematosis refers to a group of non-venereal infections, as well as the bacterium Treponema pallidum, the cause of syphilis.


“We are aware of these cases and are closely following the situation,” Elizabeth Samama, provincial health officer at the Datu Piang Regional Health Centre, told IRIN in Cotabato city.


“We will need to confirm them,” she said, referring to the need for further testing and research.


Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland (MSF) reported that 25.5 percent of women undergoing antenatal and post-natal care have tested positive for the medical condition.


“It may be yaws,” said Samama, the most widespread form of treponematosis which is also endemic to the region.


Transmitted from person to person by direct skin contact, or through breaks in the skin as a result of injuries or bites, yaws generally affects children younger than 15 in underprivileged, remote rural communities, say health experts.   


Resembling syphilis in its early stages; yaws is marked by red skin eruptions and ulcerating lesions in the nose, mouth and ears, they say.  


The disease eats away at the skin, cartilage and bones of those infected and is fast re-emerging in poor, rural and marginalised populations of Africa, Asia and South America.


But the need for further testing cannot be discounted.

Children at the Notre Dame Dulawan evacuation centre in Datu Piang, where some 300 families or 1,500 people are sheltering

David Swanson/IRIN
Children at the Notre Dame Dulawan evacuation centre in Datu Piang, where some 300 families or 1,500 people are sheltering
Thursday, November 26, 2009
High rate of treponematosis among pregnant IDP women
Children at the Notre Dame Dulawan evacuation centre in Datu Piang, where some 300 families or 1,500 people are sheltering

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Yaws generally affects children less than 15 years of age

“This may or may not be sexually transmitted syphilis,” said Sue Averill, MSF medical coordinator in Cotobato, noting that there are four types of bacteria which can turn the test positive – one of which is sexually transmitted.


“That’s the dangerous one. That’s the one that can be transmitted from mother to child and has a high mortality for both the mother and child. The test does not differentiate between the two [venereal and non-venereal], but the treatment is the same,” she clarified.    


Health experts recommend early screening for syphilis, ideally in the antenatal visit.   


Additionally, screening can be repeated in the third trimester if resources permit, to detect infection acquired during pregnancy. Those women who do not receive antenatal care should be tested at delivery.  


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexually-transmitted syphilis remains a leading cause of peri-natal mortality and morbidity in many parts of the world, despite widely available and affordable technology for diagnosing and treating infection in pregnant women.  


Among pregnant women in the early stages of syphilis who are not treated, an estimated two-thirds of pregnancies end in abortion, still-birth, or neo-natal infection.



This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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