HIV mother to face High Court over baby test

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AN HIV-POSITIVE mother who refuses to allow her four-month-old baby to be tested for the virus is to be challenged in the High Court.

Camden council, in north London, is taking the parents of the girl to court in a landmark case which could have implications for the rights of parents to make decisions concerning their children's health.

The case is due to be heard in the High Court's family division on Thursday. Earlier this month the Government announced that women in England are to be offered an HIV test to reduce the number of babies born with the virus. Ministers stressed that the screening scheme would not be compulsory.

The parents, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claim their baby is healthy and therefore should not be tested. They argue that it is their right to decide what to do with her. The mother tested HIV positive in 1990, but believes scientists are mistaken in seeing HIV as the sole cause of Aids. The father, an alternative healthcare practitioner, has tested negative for the HIV virus.

He said: "This is yet another example of the state trying to control every aspect of family life. Making the decision to have a child was not something that we took lightly. This baby is loved and cared for beyond reproach. The council is acting in both ignorance and fear."

Social workers at Camdenapplied to the courts under the 1989 Children's Act, saying HIV is a deadly infection which, if left untreated, could kill the girl. If she is found to be positive, she could be treated with a combination of drugs. If she is found to be free of HIV, the mother could be urged to stop breast feeding in an effort to prevent her from becoming infected.

Aids charities back Camden council's attempt to get the baby tested.

"The availability of effective treatments means that the advantages of knowing your own or your child's HIV status outweighs any potential disadvantages," said Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust. "There is overwhelming evidence that treatment with a combination of anti-HIV drugs considerably improves the health and life expectancy of adults, children and babies living with HIV."

A spokesman for the National Aids Trust said: "This case does give us cause for concern. The best interests of the child are paramount. Children have the right to the best care and treatment available and that can only happen if they are tested early."

The UK has one of the highest maternal HIV transmission rates in Europe, and one of the lowest identification rates among pregnant women. Of the 265 HIV-infected women who give birth every year, up to 50 babies are born with the virus, mainly because their mothers are unaware that they are infected.