Rising cases of syphilis a 'severe' health issue

By Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-22 06:20
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BEIJING - The number of syphilis cases in the country rose rapidly over the past decade and the risk of contracting syphilis is widespread, health authorities warned.

The Ministry of Health issued a 10-year working plan on Monday for syphilis prevention and control, targeting high-risk groups such as prostitutes, gay men and those engaged in extramarital sex.

Syphilis is an infectious disease that can cause damage to the nerves and cardiovascular system. It can be transmitted via sex and blood, as well as from mother to baby in the womb.

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According to statistics from the China Information System for Disease Control and Prevention (CISDCP), some 327,433 cases of syphilis were reported last year in China, a year-on-year increase of 17.07 percent. Moreover, 10,757 newborn children were infected with the disease in 2009.

Recent reports also revealed that peasants, migrant workers and retired people are exposed to higher risks of contracting syphilis.

"They lack knowledge and the ability to protect themselves," said Chen Xiangsheng, deputy director of the CISDCP.

The government banned prostitution in 1949 and has since provided free medical treatment for syphilis. By the 1960s, syphilis had almost disappeared on the mainland.

However, in the 1980s, syphilis started to spread again as the population shifted. Between 1993 and 1999, cases of syphilis rose 85 percent.

"Syphilis has become a severe public health problem," the Oriental Outlook magazine quoted Chen as saying.

AIDS authorities at all levels are being urged to place more syphilis prevention advertisements in the media and on the Internet.

Grassroots clinics are obliged to distribute educational material to patients and to hold free lectures on the prevention of syphilis.

Condoms will also be supplied in public places by the government.

A lack of knowledge leads some syphilitics to go to nonstandard private clinics, so the Ministry of Health is planning to train more doctors at grassroots hospitals.

According to the working plan, anti-syphilis drugs will be included in the refund list. All community hospitals are required to provide free medical services to the patients and to maintain their privacy.

The aim of the plan is to curb the spread of syphilis over the next five years, reduce the number of early-stage syphilitics and eliminate syphilis babies within 10 years.