Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

All Pregnant Women Need Aids Tests, Agency Advises

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

All Pregnant Women Need Aids Tests, Agency Advises

Article excerpt

Doctors should counsel every pregnant woman - 4 million a year - about AIDS and urge each to be tested for the virus so infected mothers can try to protect their unborn children, the government proposed Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that some 80,000 women of childbearing age have HIV and that every year, 7,000 of them give birth. The agency admits that testing all pregnant women would be a major investment.

But doctors recently discovered that the drug AZT cuts by two-thirds the chance a mother will infect her unborn child - if she knows to take it. Thus, the health agency argued, mass HIV testing should pay for itself both by saving babies' lives and their medical bills.

"We need to show this is cost effective, and I think that will not be difficult to do," said agency's Dr. Martha Rogers, although she couldn't provide specifics. The agency spends about $25 on each HIV test.

The Pediatric AIDS Foundation estimated the nation could save at least $350 million a year, even if 4 million women get HIV tests and $1,000 worth of AZT is given to each infected woman. The average hospital bill alone for babies born with HIV is $35,000 a year for the eight to 10 years the child lives, the foundation reported.

Dr. Mervyn Silverman, president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, said, "Certainly the cost in caring for an infected baby is going to far exceed the cost of preventing that baby from being infected."

About 2,000 babies are born with each year with HIV, the AIDS-causing virus. It is the seventh leading killer of young children.

Although testing would be voluntary, Rogers cited studies showing more than 90 percent of pregnant women agree to testing after they receive HIV counseling.

But Silverman said the government must provide care for these women if it adopts the agency's proposal. …

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