Memphis, Tenn., Health Department ‘Pushing’ for HIV Testing Among Pregnant Women
Memphis, Tenn., public health officials are "pushing" to make HIV testing a "routine part of prenatal care," the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. The Tennessee Legislature passed a law in 1998 requiring that providers offer HIV testing to all pregnant women and that health professionals report the number of women who undergo or decline the test. However, it is "unclear" how many providers are offering the tests, and local health officials in July sent letters to Shelby County and Nashville obstetricians, family practitioners and pediatricians reminding them of the law. In addition, the local health department is dedicating four new staff positions, funded by federal grants, to provide support to locations where testing is offered, including physician offices, hospital emergency rooms and laboratories. Local efforts to promote HIV testing among pregnant women have made an impact in the past two years, the Commercial Appeal reports. In 1999, 695 pregnant women in Shelby county were offered HIV tests, compared to 1,248 in 2000. Among women tested last year, eight tested positive for HIV, compared to 12 in the previous year. Since 1981, when health officials began tracking vertical transmission, a total of 276 infants have been born to HIV-positive women in Shelby County, and 51 of these infants were known to be HIV-positive. Vincent Glover, local health department infectious disease section manager, said that pregnant women "owe it to themselves and their babies to know their HIV status," since taking HIV medication decreases the risk of an HIV-positive mother transmitting the virus to her fetus or newborn infant from 25% to less than 10%. Herb Stone of the state health department added that reporting of HIV testing is improving, "but not where it should be." Stone said, "We just need doctors to work with us." Last year, doctors reported to the state 9,314 pregnant women being offered HIV testing out of 70,000 births statewide (Powers, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 1/29).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.