December 9, 2002
Maegan and four other babies featured on the poster are all healthy and HIV-free, as are their mothers. But in 2001, two HIV-infected babies were born in Waterloo Region to mothers who had not received screening. Drug therapy during pregnancy dramatically lowers a mother's chance of transmitting the virus to her baby.
Regional screening rates in 2001 were only 45 percent, compared to 54 percent provincially. But public health staff members have been educating doctors and midwives and, in 2002, the rate rose to 71 percent -- just shy of the provincial average of 73 percent.
Since 1998 in Ontario, all pregnant women are to be offered an HIV test, performed only after counseling and informed consent. Previously, screening was only offered to those with identified risk factors.
Halmo said it would be more effective if Ontario would adopt universal pre-natal screening for HIV, as is done for other STDs such as syphilis and hepatitis. Alberta began universal screening in 1998 and its testing rate jumped to 96 percent. Ontario women can still opt out if they wish.
12.04.02; Anne Kelly