BACKGROUND: AIDS mortality played an important role in the decline in syphilis prevalence in the USA, but its effect on the dramatic reduction in syphilis prevalence in Southern and Eastern Africa has not been explored. In this ecological study, we investigated the extent to which the relationship between syphilis and HIV prevalence at a population level varied between the early and late periods of the HIV epidemic.
METHODS: We performed linear regression analysis to measure the association between the national prevalence of syphilis and the peak-HIV prevalence in the early and late phases of the HIV epidemic in 11 countries of Southern and Eastern Africa.
RESULTS: Our analysis showed a strong positive association between peak-HIV prevalence and syphilis prevalence early in the HIV epidemic (R(2)=0.59; p=0.006). Although only of borderline statistical significance, this linear relationship between HIV prevalence and syphilis prevalence switched to a negative direction late in the HIV epidemic (R(2)=0.32; p=0.07).
CONCLUSIONS: AIDS mortality may have played an important role in the decline in syphilis in this region. Consequently, with AIDS deaths declining in Sub-Saharan Africa, vigilant surveillance of syphilis prevalence will be necessary to detect a potential re-emergence, as has occurred in high-income countries, and to render a timely public health response.