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Family Planning Calls For Hiv Screening

Family Planning Calls For Hiv Screening For Pregnant Women

7 March, 2006

Family Planning says the latest HIV/AIDS statistics are an avoidable tragedy and highlight the importance of making effective links between HIV/AIDS prevention and testing, reproductive health and maternity services, and increasing women’s awareness of the risks of unsafe sex.

Family Planning Executive Director, Dr Gill Greer, says the fact that four babies born in New Zealand last year were infected with the HIV virus because their mothers did not know they were HIV positive, is a shocking and avoidable tragedy.

“The simple fact is that these babies need not have contracted HIV had their mothers’ status been known. There could have been interventions including drug therapies, and discussion about the options of vaginal delivery, or delivery by elective caesarean section which significantly reduces the risk of mother to child transmission. The greatest transmission risk is at birth but we also know there are risks around breastfeeding which have to be managed”.

“This is why it is so important that New Zealand moves to implement the earlier screening recommendations so that health providers will offer and encourage HIV screening for pregnant women, as we should already be doing for chlamydia. It is also important that women become more aware of the risks of unsafe sex”.

New Zealand once led the world in preventing the transmission of HIV, partly through ongoing public health campaigns about safer sex. It is time to return to this, and also to recognise that although men who have sex with men remain the primary at risk group within New Zealand, the virus is also transmitted heterosexually.

World wide women make up nearly half of those infected, and over 60% of those who are under 25. The rates of HIV and AIDS are also increasing rapidly in Asia and the Pacific, where the majority of infection is heterosexually transmitted.

Women are physiologically more at risk that their male partner, and the high level of STIs in New Zealand also increases risk of transmission. Women need to be aware of these risks, insist on condom use, and recognise the importance of screening for STIs and HIV.

ENDS

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