LONDON (AP) _ All pregnant women in Britain will be offered HIV tests in an attempt to reduce the number of babies infected with the AIDS virus, the government announced Friday.
The test will be recommended to expectant mothers as part of their routine prenatal screening, Health Minister Tessa Jowell said.
At least half of all pregnant women will be expected to be tested by next year and up to 90 percent by 2002, Ms. Jowell said.
Each year, at least 50 HIV-infected babies are born in Britain to mothers unaware of their own infection. In 1997, the most recent year for which figures are available, 265 HIV-positive women gave birth, resulting in 62 infected babies.
The Labor government has set a target of reducing the number of children with HIV by 80 percent by 2002.
``Once women are aware of their infection, all the evidence points to them accepting measures which together will reduce the risk of transmission of infection to their babies from one in six to less than one in 20,″ Ms. Jowell said.
Measures to reduce the risk include the use of certain drugs during and after pregnancy, as well as delivery by Caesarean section and using a bottle instead of breastfeeding.
Professional groups generally welcomed the government’s announcement, but said they hoped it would be made clear to mothers that the HIV test is optional and that proper counseling and support would be offered to women who test positive.