Testing newborns for HIV can save lives

Early treatment for babies born with the virus that causes AIDS can significantly increase their chances of survival, according to a report on Monday by four U.N. agencies.

Far too few pregnant women know their HIV status and in 2007 less than 10 percent of infants born to HIV-positive mothers were tested for the virus before they were two months old, the report said.

“Without appropriate treatment, half of children with HIV will die from an HIV-related cause by their second birthday,” Ann Veneman, executive director of the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said in a statement.

“Survival rates are up to 75 percent higher for HIV-positive newborns who are diagnosed and begin treatment within their first 12 weeks,” she said.

The report by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS and the U.N. Population Fund, called for increased testing to enable appropriate treatments to begin as early as possible.

“Today, no infants should have to die of AIDS,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a statement. “We know how to prevent these tragic deaths, but now we need to focus on strengthening our health care systems to ensure that all mothers and children receive treatment as early as possible.”

The report said early infant testing is being increased in some countries hardest hit by HIV and AIDS, including Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia.

In 2007, only 18 percent of pregnant women in low-income and middle-income countries were given HIV tests and of those who tested positive, only 12 percent were further screened to determine how advanced the disease was and the type of treatment required, the report said.

Source: International Herald Tribune