EDITORIAL - U.S. panel recommends prenatal HIV testing
July 06, 2005
Yesterday an independent panel of medical experts strongly recommended prenatal HIV testing. Preceding this recommendation, only those considered "high risk" were tested because there wasn't evidence that warranted testing all women.
In 2000, Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that 33 percent of women who contracted it did so through unprotected, heterosexual sex; 25 percent were infected through sharing needles; 1 percent were infected by blood transfusion, and 36 percent -- the plurality -- were infected while not readily admitting to any risk factors.
This is in large part because most women who contract the HIV virus have no known risk factors. In other words, they do not identify themselves as high risk, simply because they are married or in what they identify as a monogamous relationship.
Thus, it is only after these women are tested that it is determined that the riskiest group of all is the unknown -- which is all the more reason to be routinely tested if you are sexually active. Furthermore, women are twice as likely to contract the HIV virus than their male counterparts.
With recent scientific advancements in internal medicine, it has finally been declared that testing all pregnant women would greatly prevent the transmission of HIV from the mother to her unborn child, and statistics support this analysis.
According to the March of Dimes Web site on HIV and AIDS in pregnancy, an estimated 120,000 to 160,000 women in the United States are living with the virus and have no knowledge that they have been infected. Furthermore, 6,000 to 7,000 of these women get pregnant every year and give birth.
The Web site also goes on to note that 15,000 children in the United States have contracted HIV, and 3,000 die every year. An alarming 90 percent of these children were infected from their mothers throughout pregnancy or during birth. More specifically, in the United States, between 280 and 370 infants -- who are among the 600,000 worldwide -- contract HIV from their mothers. Because it can so easily be prevented, it must be stopped.
The federal panel has suggested that pregnant women who are infected can receive combination treatment that decreases the chances of child fatality by 67 percent. Women who have contracted the virus are advised to undergo a Caesarean section and to avoid breastfeeding after birth to further prevent transmission. The aforementioned procedures reduce the risk of transmission to 1 percent while without this treatment, it is 25 percent.
While the benefits of this treatment are undeniable, there are some concerns. Though doctors suggest that women be tested as early as possible to effectively plan treatment if they should be infected, it is also recommended that treatment should be administered as early as the first trimester, even though the second trimester puts the baby at lower risk to be negatively affected by the treatment.
While most insurance companies cover prenatal care, the cost of prenatal HIV testing varies significantly, and most people who do not already have adequate insurance will not receive it if a law were to be put in place to mandate testing. In other words, the financial aspects of these recommendations have not been outlined.
Thus, if it is recommended that prenatal HIV testing is necessary to save lives, it should also be recommended that more insurance plans cover this expense and any subsequent treatments that it may necessitate.
More than the economical concerns are the societal perceptions of HIV and AIDS. More people in general would get tested if there weren't such a stigma attached to being infected. It seems that more and more, it's becoming what people fear most, and we'd rather not be positive that we're negative -- we'd rather not know. It seems that someone must step in so that we are not callously infecting not only individuals but innocent, newborn life.
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