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Report on Antenatal HIV Screening Welcomed

19 October 2004

Report on Antenatal HIV Screening Welcomed

The Ministry of Health's National Screening Unit has welcomed a report which recommends improving HIV screening of pregnant women.

The report, released today by the National Health Committee (NHC), has reviewed antenatal HIV screening practices in New Zealand and the way current guidelines are being implemented.

At present, pregnant women assessed as having either a high risk or an uncertain risk of carrying the HIV virus should be offered counselling and voluntary testing. However New Zealand studies show that many maternity care providers are not following this policy.

The NHC report to Health Minister Annette King recommends running a pilot study in Auckland where all pregnant women would be routinely offered antenatal HIV tests.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Ministry's Chief Advisor, Public Health, said the National Screening Unit looked forward to considering the report and providing advice to the Minister early next year on how this issue should be followed up.

He said that there are effective interventions available to substantially reduce the risk of mother to child transmission of HIV and evidence that shows that early treatment leads to better outcomes. However, he said the NHC report highlighted the diverse range of views including cultural and social beliefs that surround the question of whether or not to screen all pregnant women.

Last year,188 new cases of HIV were reported in New Zealand - 52 more than the previous year and the highest annual count since the epidemic began in the 1980s. Five children were last year diagnosed with HIV, the highest number in any year to date.


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