Inaction On HIV Baby Risk Scandalous
4 April 2006
Inaction On HIV Baby Risk Scandalous
The Government’s continuing procrastination on universal HIV testing for pregnant women is nothing short of scandalous, says New Zealand First’s health spokesperson Barbara Stewart.
“In October 2004 Waikato Hospital infectious diseases physician Graham Mills described the National Health Committee’s finding that there was insufficient evidence to support introducing a national HIV screening programme as a whitewash and called on the then Minister of Health to fast-track a policy offering pregnant women an HIV test.
“These comments followed the revelation that five children had been infected with HIV at birth in 2003 and three more had been diagnosed by October 2004.
“Fast forward to March 2006 and we have the Executive Director of Family Planning describing the fact that four babies born in 2005 were infected with the HIV virus because their mothers did not know they were HIV positive as a “shocking and avoidable tragedy”. More unnecessary disasters,” said Mrs Stewart.
“From March of this year the Waikato DHB has become the first district health board to routinely offer HIV screening which is a tribute to all concerned.
“However if you are wondering how the rest of the country is faring the attached answer to a written question to the Minister of Health will do nothing to reassure you.
“It is unbelievable that a first world country with a relatively small population cannot routinely offer all pregnant women HIV tests, along with an explanation of their importance, without the time-consuming bureaucratic dithering so beloved of the Ministry of Health,” said Mrs Stewart.
Question: Does he consider it satisfactory that it will take three years for HIV screening to become available for pregnant women throughout the country; if so, why?
Minister: Hon Pete Hodgson
Answer Text: Antenatal HIV screening is already available in New Zealand. Current antenatal HIV screening policy in New Zealand, developed in 1997, recommends the assessment of all pregnant women for their risks of HIV. The policy stipulates that where risk factors are identified, or are not clear, counselling and voluntary testing should be offered.
While the Ministry of Health has announced the staged implementation of a programme requiring the universal offer of antenatal HIV screening, the risk assessment approach to antenatal HIV screening remains the policy in district health board (DHB) areas that have not yet implemented the universal offer programme.
The Ministry’s National Screening Unit (NSU) is
working with DHBs to
implement the universal offer antenatal screening programme nationally.
The NSU is managing the national aspects of the programme, including the development a national monitoring and evaluation plan, national guidelines for health professionals, and national consumer information resources. The NSU’s work is supported by the National Antenatal HIV Screening Implementation Advisory Group (NAHSIAG).
The NAHSIAG developed preliminary criteria it recommended DHBs should meet before commencing screening. These include the ability to:
- implement standardised laboratory testing
- meet national requirements for information provision to women and for obtaining informed consent
- collect, monitor and provide required data for local and national
programme monitoring, implementation of agreed national testing and result confirmation algorithms
- ensure appropriate management, follow-up and support for positive women and babies, including support by local practitioners and stakeholders, and consideration of privacy, immigration, insurance and other key issues.
The programme may be implemented nationally in a shorter timeframe if DHBs meet these criteria earlier.