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High prevalence of syphilis among demobilized child soldiers in Eastern Congo: a cross-sectional study

DOI: 10.1186/1752-1505-5-16

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Screening of syphilis using the rapid plasma reagin test and the Treponema pallidum hemagglutination assay was conducted in three transit sites of soldier reintegration in 2005. The Fisher Exact probability test was used to compare results.The prevalence of syphilis was found to be 3.4%, with almost equal distribution in respect to sex, location.Syphilis continues to be highly prevalent in demobilized child soldiers in Eastern Congo. Syphilis screening tests are recommended.Syphilis and to some extent other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major public health issue for soldiers during periods of conflict. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), these have been exacerbated by widespread sexual violence. Child soldiers are particularly vulnerable due to several factors: incomplete maturation, low social conditions, use as sexual workers by superiors, and their promiscuous environment. During World Wars I and II and subsequent armed conflicts throughout the world, syphilis has played an unprecedented role in soldier morbidity [1]. The Congo, with almost two decades of armed conflicts, is characterized by widespread sexual violence [2,3]. In the Congo and other African countries, recruitment of child soldiers has been largely practiced despite its war-crime characterization as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [4].As a war nears its end, disarmament, demobilization, and reinsertion (DDR) of combatants is a compulsory post-conflict step. In the Congo, all child soldiers undergo this process, which allows soldiers who desire, or who are children, to return to civilian life. At the transit camp soldiers undergo compulsory syphilis testing. To prevent possible spread of the disease upon reintegration, those who test positive undergo treatment.Despite a number of studies dealing with syphilis prevalence in various contexts, to our knowledge, little is known about syphilis prevalence in demobilized soldiers, and particularly in c

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