Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Wednesday, 18 July 2007 21:48 UK

Syphilis emergency in Madagascar

By Jonny Hogg
BBC News, Antananarivo, Madagascar

The syphilis disease
If syphilis is untreated it can lead to organ failure and even death

An outbreak of syphilis has prompted the government in Madagascar to declare a state of emergency in the southern town of Fort Dauphin.

Ongoing tests suggest that about 17,000 people, or 30% of the region's sexually active population, may have the sexually transmitted disease.

An economic boom linked to local mining projects has attracted prostitutes and international mine workers.

There are fears the condition could provide an entry route for HIV/Aids.

The Indian Ocean island has an HIV infection rate of less than 1%.

Easily treated

Although the ongoing tests do not suggest a rise in HIV rates the government is declaring a state of emergency in the town to treat those who have syphilis.

Health Minister Dr Robinson Jean Louis told the BBC that the economic boom linked to local mining projects meant the town was becoming a popular destination for sex workers.

He also expressed concern at the risks associated with foreign mine workers, some from countries with high HIV rates, coming to work on projects in Fort Dauphin.

It is still unclear why Madagascar's HIV infection rates are so low in comparison with much of the rest of Africa.

Syphilis can be easily treated in as little as three days.

The ministry of health is launching a treatment programme in the next few days and will increase sexual health education in the area in an attempt to stop the disease spreading to other parts of the country.

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