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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 01:21 GMT 02:21 UK


Call for universal antenatal HIV screening

HIV testing can save lives

Universal voluntary antenatal HIV screening should be implemented in the London area, researchers say.

Experts from Imperial College, London, and the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands also believe a similar policy should be adopted in other areas of the UK where the prevalence of HIV - the virus that causes Aids - is relatively high.

Detection of HIV infection in pregnant women allows the risk of mother to child transmission to be reduced. It would also allow the mother to be treated.

But the proportion of women currently screened in the UK is low.

The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, calculated whether screening was good value for money by comparing the cost of the programme with the extra number of years of life it could add to both mothers and their children.

Based on an estimate that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with the virus was £178,300, the researchers calculated that in areas where there is a high prevalence of HIV infection each year of life saved by a screening programme would cost less than £4,000.

A high prevalence of HIV infection was defined as 15 women per 10,000 pregnancies - the average figure for London, which has one of the highest infection rates in the UK.

Dr Eddy Beck, from Imperal College, said: "A universal voluntary screening programme in areas of high HIV prevalance would avert a lot of trauma and illness and it is relatively cheap."

Opt-out tests

In a separate BMJ paper, researchers led by Dr Wendy Simpson from the University of Edinburgh investigated the effect on uptake of antenatal HIV testing.

Of the 924 pregnant women studied, 816 (88.3%) had an HIV test and when asked "Do you think the HIV test should be a routine test like all the other blood tests during pregnancy?", most women (87.7%) said yes.

The rate of uptake was more than double that in a previous study where women were asked whether they wanted to take a test.

However, the authors say that such an approach will not necessarily achieve a similar outcome in London, where there are more complex issues of language and different cultures.

Lisa Power, assistant director of operations for the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "There are certain areas of the country where it is certainly reasonable to offer people an HIV test.

"But it is important to ensure it is accompanied by proper support measures for women who find they are living with HIV."

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