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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 00:02 GMT
HIV detection in pregnancy improved
Testing for HIV during pregnancy has reduced the numbers of infected babies
Testing for HIV during pregnancy has reduced the numbers of infected babies
There have been significant improvements in the numbers of HIV infections detected in pregnant women.

An average of two thirds of HIV positive pregnant women in England and Wales were diagnosed before they gave birth in the first half of 2000.

Diagnosing their infections means doctors can try to reduce the risk of the infection being passed to the unborn baby.

London is leading the way in picking up HIV infection in pregnant women.


With a positive diagnosis women can choose to take advantage of interventions to reduce the chances of passing their infection on to their child

Dr Barry Evans
PHLS
In January to June 2000, 73% (94 cases) were diagnosed before they gave birth.

This compared to more than 40% (124 cases) that were diagnosed in 1997.

Across the rest of England and Wales, half the cases were diagnosed pre-birth. In Scotland, just under 80% were picked up.

Testing 'crucial'

Dr Barry Evans, of the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), said: "Testing pregnant women for HIV before they give birth is crucial.

"With a positive diagnosis women can choose to take advantage of interventions to reduce the chances of passing their infection on to their child.

"Uptake of drug therapy, a caesarean birth and the avoidance of breast-feeding will reduce the chances of infection being passed on from mother to child from more than one in four to less than one in 20."

Dr Evans said most HIV infections occurred in London, although the number of cases in the rest of the country had increased over the last 18 months.

He added that the increase in diagnoses prior to birth in England was "encouraging".

Although scientists cannot be certain how many infections ante-natal screening prevents, they can say how many infections are prevented by the mother knowing she is HIV positive - whether that is a result of screening, or because of prior knowledge of her HIV status.

In 1999, 380 HIV infected women gave birth. If none had been diagnosed, 100 babies could have been infected.

There were actually 55 infections, but the PHLS estimates if all the women had been diagnosed, fewer than 10 babies would have been infected.

During the period covered by the PHLS figures, a screening programme was being rolled out across the country.

The PHLS said it hoped there would be further improvements as more areas were covered.

A spokesman for the Terrence Higgins Trust Lighthouse charity said it was important for HIV to be detected early in pregnant women.

"If a woman is known to have HIV before she gives birth, steps can be taken to greatly reduce the chances of her giving birth to an HIV-positive baby.

"As with anyone with HIV, the earlier they are diagnosed, the better for their health and that of their child.

"However, women should be in control of the process, and should not be forced into either counselling or testing against their wishes."

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See also:

02 Sep 99 | Health
Pregnant women offered HIV test
04 Nov 99 | Aids
Women demand HIV strategy
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