AIDS: New York’s Newborn HIV Testing Program Criticized
A 15-month-old "New York State program that mandates testing of newborns for the AIDS virus" is being criticized by doctors and advocacy groups for delays in reporting results, the New York Times reports. Health care professionals say "it typically takes two weeks" -- and sometimes more than a month -- to get test results, which delays "crucial treatment for the virus in some cases" and increases infant exposure through infected breast milk. The HIV Law Project, a nonprofit advocacy group, "said it would ask a justice in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to order that positive HIV test results on newborns be returned to the parent in less than 72 hours, or to halt the program -- the first mandatory testing program for newborns in the nation."
Save The Children
While "[s]tate officials and politicians have praised mandatory newborn testing as a success, saying the program in its first 12 months identified 102 infants whose HIV infected mothers did not know they or their children were in danger," doctors say the delays in test results "are undermining efforts to provide better care for the infants." According to Theresa McGovern, executive director of the law project, "in at least seven cases brought to her attention, the earliest time in which the mothers learned their babies' test results was two weeks." She said, "To not get information to mothers when you have the technological ability to do so is outrageous." Dr. William Borkowski, director of pediatric infectious diseases at New York University Medical Center, said, "If the goal is to identify infected mothers and infected children, the program is succeeding. But if the goal is to prevent transmission, it is not succeeding." Frances Tarlton, spokesperson for the New York State Health Department, "denied accusations of delays" and said "newborn testing was never intended to be a prevention program." She said, "The test results do not arrive in time to prevent infection but do allow the child to be monitored and get into care at the earliest possible point."
All About Timing
The Times reports that many doctors say "the lack of timely test results means a crucial window of opportunity is lost to treat the infant," which makes more urgent the "need for rapid bedside testing so that HIV exposed infants can be identified in minutes and treated in the first crucial hours with AZT." According to a new study by the New York State Department of Health, treating HIV-positive newborns with the antiviral drug AZT within 48 hours of birth "can substantially reduce the chances of being infected." Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan is waiting for state approval to become the first hospital in the state "to introduce rapid testing" (Richardson, 5/14).