How New Zealand Hopes to Halt the Country's Syphilis Epidemic

Prevalence of the STI has doubled recently, resulting in two stillbirths since last year.
October 31, 2018, 11:01pm
New Zealand introduces new measures to halt syphilis

A new-and-improved system aimed to track New Zealand’s syphilis epidemic, which has claimed the lives of babies, will go live today. The updated notification system will help track outbreaks of the STI and use this data to target testing and prevention efforts to those who are vulnerable.

Previously, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) would only get notified of syphilis cases recorded by sexual health clinics. But from today, the automated system will let GPs and laboratories notify ESR as well.

"This will give us ready access to high-quality surveillance data and allow for a better understanding of at-risk populations, planning and evaluation of prevention and control activities and ongoing monitoring," a Ministry of Health spokesman said.

In 2017 there were 495 confirmed cases of syphilis, over double the amount recorded in 2015.

This year the NZ Herald revealed New Zealand babies are dying from syphilis passed on from their mothers during pregnancy. There have been four confirmed and one probable congenital (mother-to-baby) syphilis cases since 2017, and two resulted in stillbirths.

Royal Australasian College of Physicians has slammed the government for its “totally inadequate” response to the worsening epidemic.

Acting Associate Health Minister James Shaw said rolling out the tracking system showed the syphilis outbreak was being taken seriously. "I am highly concerned and feel for the families affected… by updating the notification system, we are taking steps to ensure a much-needed, stronger public health response to address STIs."