Israel: Health Ministry to Recommend All Pregnant Women Be Tested for HIV

This article was reported by Jerusalem Post.

The Jerusalem Post reported that after an infant died of HIV a few weeks ago, Israel's Health Ministry has recommended that all pregnant women in the country get tested for HIV. The Ministry has been hesitant to recommend mandatory testing in the past, citing few cases of HIV in pregnant women in the country and the expense of testing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended testing of all pregnant women for some time now.

Every year in Israel, several infants are born with HIV to women who do not know they carry the infection. Pregnant women who carry HIV can take a drug "cocktail" in pregnancy to prevent passing the infection to their newborns during birth as well as while breastfeeding. The treatment has a very high success rate. The recent infant death, which occurred at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, was to a woman who was unaware she was infected with HIV.

The HIV testing policy, until now, has been an optional choice and directed mostly at high-risk women, which included prostitutes, drug users, and women from countries where HIV is widespread. According to Dr. Daniel Elbirt, a senior physician at Kaplan Medical Center's AIDS center in Rehovot, many women in these categories decline to take the test because of the stigma associated with HIV. Elbirt argues that if HIV testing was mandatory for all women, the stigma would be removed. He also said that the cost of the HIV test, which is relatively inexpensive, will pay for itself by preventing HIV in even a handful of newborns.