Number of Infants Infected With HIV Through Mother-to-Child Transmission Drops to Record Low in New York
The number of infants in New York who contracted HIV from their mothers declined 78% between 1997 and 2002, reaching a record low, according to data released by the state Department of Health, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. According to the data, 10.9% of infants born to HIV-positive mothers in 1997 were infected, compared with 2.4% of infants in 2002. Although New York since 1987 has tested newborns for several diseases -- including HIV -- the infants' parents were not notified of the test results. State officials attributed the decline in the number of HIV-positive infants to a 1996 state law that requires mothers to be notified when an infant tests HIV-positive, according to the AP/Newsday. The law does not require parental consent for newborn HIV testing, and prenatal HIV testing for pregnant women is conducted on a voluntary basis. Approximately 95% of pregnant women in New York undergo HIV testing before giving birth, according to the health department.
AIDS advocates applauded the decline in mother-to-child HIV transmission, but they said that the state law is not entirely responsible for the decline because many HIV-positive pregnant women seek HIV testing and treatment to reduce the risk of transmission to their newborns prior to giving birth. Christina Kazanas, director of policy and programs at the New York AIDS Coalition, said, "This is a good example of a well-intentioned piece of legislation that was poorly targeted," adding, "Testing the newborn after birth is not the primary way the transmission between mother-to-baby is being prevented." Tracie Gardner of the New York-based Legal Action Center, a not-for-profit law and policy organization aimed at fighting discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, addiction or criminal records, said that the law allows women who refused to be tested during pregnancy to become aware of their HIV status but does not prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, according to the AP/Newsday. "By the time the baby is born, you've missed critical opportunities to be able to actually prevent the baby from getting infected," Gardner said. Approximately 25% of infants born to HIV-positive pregnant women who do not receive antiretroviral drugs to reduce the risk of HIV transmission will become infected, according to the AP/Newsday. The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 infants worldwide contract HIV from their mothers each year, and most of them are in developing countries (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/6).