01 December 2014

On World AIDS Day, NSW Health is reminding pregnant women of the importance of checking their HIV status and today released a new information sheet designed to assist and inform women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

NSW Centre for Population Health Director, Dr Jo Mitchell said all pregnant women should be tested for HIV as routine practice to help protect the health of their babies, regardless of their HIV risk status.

“HIV is transmitted via blood or sexual contact, and can be passed on from mother to baby. People infected with HIV may have no symptoms for months or many years,” Dr Mitchell said.

“The risk of transmission of HIV from an HIV positive mother to her child is high. However it can be almost entirely eliminated with treatment and other prevention strategies that are available for both the mother and infant.

Dr Mitchell said while mother to child transmission of HIV infection is now rare in NSW, even one baby born with HIV infection is a tragedy. 

“The only way to further eliminate HIV infection in babies born in NSW is to ensure that every pregnant woman has an HIV test,” she said.

“Research by the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the Kirby Institute, UNSW, showed that in the last decade, there have been 149 instances reported in NSW where a baby has been born to an HIV positive mother. Of these, eight babies (5 per cent) were infected with HIV.

“During this decade nationally, if the mother was diagnosed with HIV before the birth of the baby, only one per cent of the babies were infected.

“However, if the mother was only diagnosed after the birth of the baby, then 46 per cent of the babies were infected. Testing of pregnant women and early detection is key. Therefore, testing of pregnant women and early detection is crucial,” Dr Mitchell said.

Although fewer women are infected with HIV than men, testing is recommended for all pregnant women because:

  • HIV has serious health implications for anyone infected
  • Without treatment, the risk that HIV can be passed on from mother to baby is high
  • Safe and effective treatments are available for HIV
  • If it is known that the mother has HIV infection, spread of the infection to the baby can be prevented
  • Treating early can dramatically reduce harms to a mother and her baby
  • HIV treatment will greatly reduce the risk of a mother infecting her baby

Pregnant women or those planning a pregnancy can ask their GP, obstetrician or midwife for an HIV test. They can also access the information sheet here: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/endinghiv/Documents/hiv-pregnancy-patientinfo.pdf

For free and confidential sexual health support and information, call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 or go to http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/endinghiv/Pages/default.aspx ​​​​​​
Page Updated: Monday 1 December 2014