Challenges and outcomes of implementing a national syphilis follow-up system for the elimination of congenital syphilis in Cambodia: a mixed-methods study

T Delvaux, Vichea Ouk, Sovannarith Samreth, S Yos, R Tep, C Pall, V Keo, S Deng, WHK Cho, S Hul, S Chhorn, S Tuot, R Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Objectives We aimed to describe the challenges and outcomes of implementing a national syphilis follow-up system to improve syphilis management in maternal and child health (MCH) services in Cambodia.

Design Operational study; quantitative cohort data and cross sectional qualitative data.

Setting Public health facilities at national level and in four provinces with high syphilis prevalence in Cambodia.

Participants Pregnant women screened for syphilis; MCH health care providers and managers.

Methods We conducted an operational research using syphilis screening and treatment data collected from a national follow-up system (cohort data) and reported in the health management information system (HMIS) between 2019 and 2020. We also conducted indepth interviews with 16 pregnant women and focus group discussions with 37 healthcare providers and managers. Descriptive statistics and thematic content analysis were used.

Outcome measures Syphilis testing and treatment results and perceptions regarding these services.

Results A total of 470 pregnant women who tested positive in rapid syphilis testing were recorded in the national syphilis follow-up system in 2019–2020. Of these, 71% (332 of 470) received a rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test and 95% (n=315) tested positive; 78% (246 of 315) received any syphilis treatment and only 28% (88 of 315) were treated adequately with benzathine penicillin G (BPG). Data from four provinces with high syphilis prevalence (more closely monitored) showed higher testing and treatment rates than at the national level. HMIS aggregated data reported a higher number of pregnant women screened and treated for syphilis than the follow-up system during the same period. Barriers to syphilis testing and treatment included late antenatal care, long distance to RPR testing and treatment, partners’ lack of support to reach the health facility, BPG stockout and poor adherence to oral treatment in the absence of BPG. Providers and managers reported a lack of communication across services, insufficient skills to treat infants and absence of clear guidance regarding the revised follow-up system. Study findings contributed to changes in operating procedures nationwide to facilitate access to syphilis testing and adequate treatment and a systematic follow-up of pregnant women and exposed infants.

Conclusions Study results contributed to informing improvements to syphilis management in MCH services in Cambodia.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere063261
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Infection control
  • Prenatal diagnosis
  • Public health


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