OBJECTIVE: To evaluate antenatal care in reducing the vertical transmission of syphilis. METHODS: A cross-sectional study was designed to be representative of low-risk pregnancies in women cared for at the Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS) network in the city of Rio de Janeiro, from November 2007 to July 2008. Pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis were identified through interviews, checking their antenatal care card and searching for reported cases in the public health information systems. Cases of congenital syphilis were sought at the disease reporting system (Sinan), the Mortality Information System (SIM) and the SUS's Hospital Information System (SIH). RESULTS: Syphilis was identified in 46 of the pregnancies, and 16 cases of congenital syphilis were identified, resulting in a prevalence of 1.9% (95%CI 1.3;2.6) of syphilis in pregnancy and an incidence of 6/1,000 (95%CI 3;12/1,000) of congenital syphilis. The vertical transmission rate was 34.8% with three cases resulting in death (1 abortion, 1 stillborn and 1 neonatal death) and high proportions of prematurity and low birth weight. The healthcare pathway of those women revealed flaws in the care they received, such as late entry to antenatal care, syphilis remaining undiagnosed during pregnancy and lack of treatment for the partner. CONCLUSIONS: Innovative strategies are needed to improve the outcomes of syphilis in pregnancy, including improving the laboratory network, the quality of care delivered to the pregnant women and their sexual partners and, most important of all, investigating every case of congenital syphilis as a sentinel event in the quality of antenatal care.
Syphilis, Congenital, epidemiology; Syphilis Serodiagnosis, utilization; Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical, prevention & control; Prenatal Care; Quality of Health Care