ATLANTA -- Findings released at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta this week demonstrate how implementation of the Department of Health and Human Services' new HIV initiative, which emphasizes HIV testing as a routine part of care, greater access to HIV testing, increased attention to prevention among HIV-positive persons, and reduced mother-to-child transmission, is lending new momentum to prevention efforts in the United States.
"In April, we announced the Advancing HIV Prevention Initiative. Three months later, we are hearing at this meeting of the leading prevention experts in this country, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, how the initiative can address past gaps in our efforts and break down barriers to diagnosis and treatment," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
CDC research with women of childbearing age shows that reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission, a major goal of the new initiative, in part depends on increasing awareness of the need to be tested and that treatment is available if results are positive.
In two separate surveys of recently pregnant women, 20 percent or more reported that they had never been tested for HIV, despite a 1995 CDC recommendation that all pregnant women be tested. Another CDC study found that more than 40 percent of women of childbearing age were not aware that treatments to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child are available. Knowing that effective treatments are available could motivate more women to be tested during pregnancy.
"Each case of mother-to-child HIV transmissions represents a failure of our public health system," said CDC Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding. "Every pregnant woman should be screened for HIV so that treatment can be offered, if needed, to protect mother and child."
Other CDC research demonstrates that rapid HIV testing, another cornerstone of the new prevention initiative, can provide accurate results in just over an hour for women whose HIV status is unknown at labor.
CDC researchers will also present findings showing that a brief training session for healthcare workers can enhance interpretation of results of the new OraQuick rapid test. Healthcare workers without previous laboratory experience more accurately interpreted results after a 20-minute training session than healthcare workers who had only the manufacturer's written instructions to follow.
Also at the conference, CDC is announcing a new national system for measuring the rate of HIV infections in the United States. Using the Serologic Testing Algorithm for Recent HIV Seconversion (STARHS) technology, 35 US locations will be able to more accurately monitor the number of new HIV infections that occur each year and target prevention resources to the populations most in need.
"Knowing HIV status is a powerful motivator for behavior change," said Gerberding. "When people know their status, they take steps to protect their partners."