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Uncovering the Root Causes: Mississippi's 900% Spike In Congenital Syphilis Cases

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

blocks spelling out syphilisWhat Is Congenital Syphilis?

Congenital syphilis is a type of syphilis that can be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child. If untreated, a pregnant woman with syphilis has an 80% chance of passing it to her baby. In 2022, Mississippi experienced a 900% increase in newborns requiring treatment for syphilis. 

What Does Congenital Syphilis Do To Babies?

While it is possible for babies with syphilis not to show symptoms right away, it is essential to seek treatment within the first three months after birth. If left untreated, the complications can be severe and even life-threatening.

Syphilis can cause damage to a baby's organs, nervous system, deform their bones, and cause vision and hearing problems. In some cases, newborns infected with syphilis may even die. Pregnant women need access to healthcare to prevent these potential complications.

Why Are Congenital Syphilis Rates Increasing?

The reasons are complex and often relate to socioeconomic and racial factors. One reason for the increase in cases is the lack of routine prenatal care for pregnant women, particularly those living in poverty who are often minorities. In 2020, black newborns accounted for 70% of the state's congenital syphilis cases, despite making up only 42% of the state's live births that year.

Syphilis can lead to undiagnosed and untreated infections, increasing the baby's risk of contracting the disease. Ensuring a sufficient supply of OBGYNs in a state to provide comprehensive healthcare is essential but declining.

Why Is There A Shortage Of Obstetricians & Gynecologists?

Many pregnant women in the state report that it takes 2-3 months to get an appointment with an OBGYN if they see one at all. 

Banning abortions in some states has led to a backup of the availability of obstetricians and gynecologists (OBGYNs). This is because OBGYNs are required to have training in abortion care, which is an essential part of healthcare for many people.

If OBGYN residents cannot complete their training in a state due to restrictive abortion laws, they may not have enough OBGYNs to meet the community's healthcare needs. This is causing a shortage of maternity care, which can have severe consequences for mothers and babies.

In addition, many obstetricians and OBGYNs are leaving the state due to the change in abortion laws for fear of losing their medical license to save the mother's life, including complex miscarriage management when complications arise. 

Another factor contributing to the increase in congenital syphilis cases is the lack of sex education and the prevalence of abstinence-only programs. This leaves young people without the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

Furthermore, restrictions on contraception, abortions, and reproductive healthcare can exacerbate this issue. Cultural and religious beliefs often influence these restrictions, which can impact political policies related to sex education.

What Needs To Happen?

This issue should be approached with a positive, proactive, and empathetic strategy. By addressing the root causes of congenital syphilis and working to improve access to healthcare and sex education, we can ensure that all individuals have the resources they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

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