Letter: Beware HIV tests

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Sir: Two years after the advent of a government which promised a comprehensive HIV strategy, the debate about the routine testing of pregnant women begins again ("All pregnant women to receive HIV tests on NHS", 13 August).

The arguments in favour of or against antenatal testing have to be seen with a view to the impact on the mother as well as the child. There is an estimated 10-15 per cent possibility of transmission from an HIV-positive mother to her baby. But a diagnosis for the mother is a very real, 100- per-cent, positive diagnosis.

There is a danger that focusing on the possibility of transmission to a child makes invisible or unimportant the impact on the mother or the family as a whole. Women who have received a positive diagnosis tell of discrimination that affects so many aspects of their lives and their children's. Fears of being ostracised by communities, of losing a home and children, still exist and are an undoubted reality for some.

The impact of antenatal testing is likely to hit hardest at women from African communities who have come to the UK as refugees or asylum-seekers. Most children born to HIV-positive mothers in the UK are born to Black African women in London.

The impact of a positive diagnosis also has to be seen within the context of immigration law - which denies the right to work and access to benefits for some asylum-seekers (and other immigrant groups) - and of a government which is seeking to speed up its procedures to deport people. A positive diagnosis, when you and your children have no food and no place to live, and are under threat of deportation to a country where treatment is not available, is a cruel extra for some women.


George House Trust