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Objectives: To examine the performance of the syndromic approach in the management of vaginal discharge among women attending a reproductive health clinic in New Delhi, India.
Methods: Women who sought services from the clinic and who had a complaint of vaginal discharge were interviewed, underwent a pelvic examination, and provided samples for laboratory investigations of bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis, syphilis, trichomoniasis, and Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae infections. Data analysis focused on the prevalence of infection and on the performance of the algorithm recommended by the national authorities for the management of vaginal discharge.
Results: The most common infection among 319 women was bacterial vaginosis (26%). At least one sexually transmitted infection was detected in 21.9% of women. The prevalence of C trachomatis infection was 12.2%; trichomoniasis 10%; syphilis 2.2%; N gonorrhoeae was not isolated. An algorithm based on risk assessment and speculum assisted clinical evaluation was not helpful in predicting cervical infections associated with C trachomatis (sensitivity 5% and PPV 9%). This algorithm was sensitive (95%) though not specific (22%) in selecting women for metronidazole therapy effective against bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis, and overtreatment was a problem (PPV 38%). The sensitivity, specificity, and PPV of this algorithm for the treatment of candidiasis were 46%, 98%, and 88% respectively. The cost per case assessed using the algorithm was $2 and the cost per infection correctly treated was $4.25.
Conclusions: The prevalence of cervical infection associated with C trachomatis was high among these "low risk" women. The syndromic approach is not an efficient tool for detecting this condition, and alternative approaches to evaluation and intervention are required. The syndromic management of vaginal discharge among women seeking family planning and other reproductive health services should focus on vaginal infections, thus enhancing quality of care and addressing women's concerns about their health.
Key Words: syndromic approach; vaginal discharge; Chlamydia trachomatis; reproductive health; India