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EDITIONS
Aids Thursday, 4 November, 1999, 15:41 GMT
Women demand HIV strategy
Bottlefeeding
Experts are split on whether HIV+ women should breast or bottle feed
The government should adopt a national Aids strategy which deals with the specificf needs of women with HIV, according to the first UK-wide conference of women with the virus.

The Department of Health has issued guidelines on pregnant women with HIV and chose to focus on this issue at last year's World Aids Day.

Aids Special Report
But delegates at the Positive Women's Agenda for Change conference in Birmingham said this did not go far enough.

They want to see a concerted policy on all issues related to women and HIV, including breastfeeding, access to GPs, support services and caring for children with or affected by the virus.

"We have been waiting for what seems like forever for a strategy which deals specifically with women's needs rather than a broad-brush approach," said a spokeswoman for the George House Trust, a Manchester-based HIV centre which co-organised the conference.

The Department of Health says a consultation paper on a national HIV strategy will be issued in the spring and will include guidance on specific areas, such as women's health.

It said it would welcome comments from HIV positive women.

More than 140 women attended the Birmingham conference which was the first meeting of HIV positive women to be organised outside London.

Some had never met another woman with the virus before.

Breastfeeding

One of the main issues raised was breastfeeding on which HIV charities are split.

This follows a controversial High Court decision which supported a local authority's right to test the child of an HIV positive mother for the virus against her wishes.

The woman fears that, if her child is negative, she will be forbidden from breastfeeding her.

African women attending the conference said they welcomed the High Court case because it brought attention to the issue.

They say many children are already being tested and put on HIV drugs without the issues being fully discussed with their mothers.

The George House Trust says women deemed to be at high risk of contracting the virus, such women from African countries, are being offered an HIV test at ante-natal clinics.

Although they are asked if they want the test, the women assume it is routine, says the trust.

"If they come back as positive, they have to cope with all the issues and stigma associated with HIV. They need support and many are not getting that," said a spokeswoman for the trust.

Research

The conference called for more research and debate on HIV and breastfeeding.

The George House Trust says figures on transmission rates from breastmilk were difficult to gauge since it was hard to know when a child had become infected - for example, whether it was in the womb, at birth or through breastmilk.

It cited one South African study which suggested babies fed breastmilk and bottle milk were more likely to be infected than those fed exclusively on either form of milk.

"It suggested breastmilk might protect the mucus linings which lead to transmission of infections," said the spokeswoman.

Another issue raised by women at the conference was difficulty getting access to GPs and dentists.

Some had been turned down by primary care services and were without a GP. They suspected it was because of their HIV diagnosis, although they were not given a reason.

A full report on the conference will be published shortly.

See also:

04 Nov 99 | Aids
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