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EDITIONS
Baby in HIV court struggle
The parents do not want their daughter to have an HIV test
The High Court is to decide next week whether a local authority can overrule a couple's decision not to have their child tested for HIV.

The child's mother is HIV positive and has known of her status for several years.

Aids Special Report
But the parents, who cannot be named in order to protect their daughter's identity, fear they will lose control over the way the child is treated if the test goes ahead.

In the first case of its kind, Camden Council is arguing that it is in the child's best interests to be tested and receive the highest standard of medical treatment on offer.

The parents strongly believe in the power of alternative medicine and say it has kept the mother healthy.

They say they will only seek medical advice if their child becomes ill.

The father of the child said: "They will not just stop at testing. They are not going through a court action simply for a test.

Stigma

"We will end up having no say in the subsequent treatment of our child and she will be branded as an HIV positive child."

He fears the stigma could cause her social problems in later life.

One example of the kind of intervention they fear is over breastfeeding.

The girl is currently being breastfed. Doctors say HIV can be passed from mother to baby through breast milk.

But the parents argue that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks.

The council has taken out an order under the Children Act which states that it believes it is in the best interests of the child to be tested because it can then have access to medical treatments currently on offer.

But the father says that if the council wins the state "will be able to dictate the way in which we live our lives".

The case comes just two weeks after Health Secretary Frank Dobson announced plans to offer all pregnant women attending ante-natal clinics the opportunity to have an HIV test.

The announcement is fuelled by growing evidence that treating pregnant mothers with anti-HIV drugs can greatly reduce mother-to-baby transmission of the virus.

Child's interests

Derek Bodell of the National Aids Trust said: "In the last few years, there have been some amazing developments in medical treatment for HIV.

"There is a strong feeling that there are a lot of benefits from treatments. This is the dilemma for local authorities."

He added: "While complementary therapies are an important part of any care package, they are no substitute for conventional treatment."

Nick Partridge of the Terrence Higgins Trust said the evidence in favour of combination drug therapy was "overwhelming".

"Testing is an essential first step to ensure that these potentially life-saving treatments can be made available." he stated.

But the George House Trust, which care for HIV positive patients in the North West, said no-one should be forced to have an HIV test, particularly in view of the social stigma still attached to the disease.

It said: "No-one, local authority or otherwise, has the right to believe that their interest in a child's health is greater than the mother's."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
The BBC's Sanchia Berg reports: "The parents say they are protecting their rights against an encroaching state"
Audio
Derek Bodell, Director of the National Aids Trust
See also:

02 Sep 99 | Health
05 Jul 99 | Health
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