More Than Two-Thirds of British HIV-Positive Pregnant Women Diagnosed Before Giving Birth
More than two-thirds of HIV-positive pregnant women in England and Wales were diagnosed before they gave birth in the first six months of 2000, BBC News reports. London had the highest rate of detection in England, with 73% of cases detected before birth, compared to 40% of cases in 1997. Dr. Barry Evans of the Public Health Laboratory Service said that testing pregnant women for HIV is "crucial" because "[u]ptake of drug therapy, a caesarean birth and the avoidance of breastfeeding" can reduce the risk of vertical HIV transmission from "more than one in four to less than one in 20." In 1999, 380 HIV-positive women gave birth, and of their infants, 55 were infected. However, if none of the women had been tested for HIV, 100 of the newborns could have been infected, according to the PHLS. Researchers estimate that if all of the women had been tested, fewer than 10 infants would have acquired the virus. During the screening period, the PHLS was pilot testing a national screening program and hopes the number of infections will continue to decrease as the program expands. A spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV/AIDS charity, said the detection of HIV early in pregnancy is "important" because the earlier women are diagnosed, "the better for their health and that of their child." However, the spokesperson added, "women should be in control of the process, and should not be forced into either counseling or testing against their wishes" (BBC News, 2/23).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.