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Low and stable rates of antenatal syphilis and HIV in migrant and refugee women on the Thai-Myanmar border: a descriptive study

By R McGready, J Kang, I Watts, MEG Tyrosvoutis, MB Torchinsky, AM Htut, NW Tun, L Keereecharoen, C Wangsing, B Hanboonkunupakarn and FH Nosten

Abstract

<p>Objective: The antenatal prevalence of syphilis and HIV/AIDS in migrants and refugees is poorly documented. The aim of this study was to audit the first year of routine syphilis screening in migrant and refugee women on the Thai Myanmar border.</p><pMethods: From August 2012 to July 2013, 3600 pregnant women were screened for HIV (ELISA) and syphilis (VDRL with TPHA confirmation) at clinics along the Thai-Myanmar border.</p> <p>Results: Seroprevalence for HIV 0.47% (95% CI 0.30-0.76) (17/3,599), and syphilis 0.39% (95% CI 0.23-0.65) (14/3,592), were low. Syphilis was significantly lower in refugees (0.07% 95% CI 0.01-0.38) (1/1,469), than in migrants (0.61% 95% CI 0.36-1.04) (13/2,123). The three active (VDRL≥1:8 and TPHA reactive) syphilis cases with VDRL titres of 1:32 were easy to counsel and treat. Women with low VDRL titres (>75% were < 1:8) and TPHA reactive results, in the absence of symptoms and both the woman and her husband having only one sexual partner in their lifetime, and the inability to determine the true cause of the positive results presented ethical difficulties for counsellors.</p><p>Conclusion: As HIV and syphilis testing becomes available in more and more settings, the potential impact of false positive results should be considered, especially in populations with low prevalence for these diseases. This uncertainty must be considered in order to counsel patients and partners accurately and safely about the results of these tests, without exposing women to increased risk for abuse or abandonment. Our findings highlight the complexities of counselling patients about these tests and the global need for more conclusive syphilis testing strategies.</p

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