Assistant Professor, Department of International Health, Georgetown University
Research Fellow, Center for Global Development
If recognized in its totality, congenital syphilis--with an annual death toll of around half a million--might rank among the top five causes of child mortality. But congenital syphilis is not widely acknowledged as a priority in global health. Despite being relatively simple to diagnose and treat, it is largely absent from high-level discussions of child health or reproductive health and is not a major programmatic focus at prominent global health organizations.
So, why does congenital syphilis remain unseen? This case adds an important new dimension to our understanding of global health politics, highlighting how problems are defined and how common metrics elevate some issues over others. The discussion of this disease allows us to reassess what counts as a significant problem in global health and suggests ways to improve how we understand and act against death and disease in developing countries.