Every year, there are five hundred thousand stillbirths or newborn deaths because of undetected syphilis passed from mothers' wombs. Public health researchers say that number could be more than halved with cheap testing.
Most of the deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. The report's author, Dr. Sarah Hawkes, told Reuters that screening had "failed because of a lack of will to screen." Syphilis can be treated cheaply with penicillin.
The study, published in The Lancet Infection Diseases, looked at the cases of 41,000 women. About 2 million pregnant women are infected with syphilis every year — in some countries, as many as 15 percent of women of childbearing age already have it — though not all of them pass it on to their babies, known as congenital syphilis.