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Congenital Syphilis Deaths Should Be a Wake-Up Call

Summary: More fetuses and babies are dying from syphilis, a completely preventable outcome with adequate access to quality prenatal care. This is a another marker of failure of our systems for health care financing and public health.

Babies Die as Congenital Syphilis Continues a Decade-Long Surge Across the US
California Healthline
April 12, 2022
By Anna Maria Barry-Jester

For a decade, the number of babies born with syphilis in the U.S. has surged, undeterred. Data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows just how dire the outbreak has become.

In 2012, 332 babies were born infected with the disease. In 2021, that number had climbed nearly sevenfold, to at least 2,268, according to preliminary estimates. And 166 of those babies died.

About 7% of babies diagnosed with syphilis in recent years have died; thousands of others born with the disease have faced problems that include brain and bone malformations, blindness, and organ damage.

“The really depressing thing about it is we had this thing virtually eradicated back in the year 2000,” said William Andrews, a public information officer for Oklahoma’s sexual health and harm reduction service.

From 2011 through 2020, congenital syphilis resulted in 633 documented stillbirths and infant deaths, according to the new CDC data.

Comment by: Don McCanne

Though we spend far more per capita on health care than any other nation, we have a flawed health care financing system that leaves millions who are insured in financial hardship and millions more with no insurance coverage at all. We finance our health care delivery system in a manner designed to create personal wealth for a few while failing to ensure health care access for all.

At least in the past we could be proud of some of the basics of our health care system such as the provision of prenatal and other public health services that reduced afflictions such as congenital syphilis. But public health capacity has decreased, and recent statistics demonstrate that we are moving backwards even in basic disease control that we previously took for granted. Shockingly, maternal mortality is also rising.

So where are we? Our partly public health care financing system is becoming more privatized, and our health care delivery system is experiencing increasing dominance by private equity firms and other corporate middlemen. And now our public health delivery is becoming more reliant on the private sector. On all three levels – our system of financing health care, ownership of health care delivery, and our support of our public health services – we are failing. We spend enough money (the public’s money either directly or indirectly) but fall short on much-needed public oversight.

One little niche in which we are beginning to fulfill the American entrepreneurial dream – the manufacture and marketing of infant caskets. (Excuse me while I attempt to wipe the tears from my eyes.)

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