Testing pregnant women for HIV at the time of labor and delivery is the last opportunity for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) measures, particularly in settings where women do not receive adequate antenatal care. However, HIV testing and counseling of pregnant women in labor is a challenge, especially in resource-constrained settings. In India, many rural women present for delivery without any prior antenatal care. Those who do get antenatal care are not always tested for HIV, because of deficiencies in the provision of HIV testing and counseling services. In this context, we investigated the impact of introducing round-the-clock, rapid, point-of-care HIV testing and counseling in a busy labor ward at a tertiary care hospital in rural India.
Methods and Findings
After they provided written informed consent, women admitted to the labor ward of a rural teaching hospital in India were offered two rapid tests on oral fluid and finger-stick specimens (OraQuick Rapid HIV-1/HIV-2 tests, OraSure Technologies). Simultaneously, venous blood was drawn for conventional HIV ELISA testing. Western blot tests were performed for confirmatory testing if women were positive by both rapid tests and dual ELISA, or where test results were discordant. Round-the-clock (24 h, 7 d/wk) abbreviated prepartum and extended postpartum counseling sessions were offered as part of the testing strategy. HIV-positive women were administered PMTCT interventions. Of 1,252 eligible women (age range 18 y to 38 y) approached for consent over a 9 mo period in 2006, 1,222 (98%) accepted HIV testing in the labor ward. Of these, 1,003 (82%) women presented with either no reports or incomplete reports of prior HIV testing results at the time of admission to the labor ward. Of 1,222 women, 15 were diagnosed as HIV-positive (on the basis of two rapid tests, dual ELISA and Western blot), yielding a seroprevalence of 1.23% (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.61%–1.8%). Of the 15 HIV test–positive women, four (27%) had presented with reported HIV status, and 11 (73%) new cases of HIV infection were detected due to rapid testing in the labor room. Thus, 11 HIV-positive women received PMTCT interventions on account of round-the-clock rapid HIV testing and counseling in the labor room. While both OraQuick tests (oral and finger-stick) were 100% specific, one false-negative result was documented (with both oral fluid and finger-stick specimens). Of the 15 HIV-infected women who delivered, 13 infants were HIV seronegative at birth and at 1 and 4 mo after delivery; two HIV-positive infants died within a month of delivery.
In a busy rural labor ward setting in India, we demonstrated that it is feasible to introduce a program of round-the-clock rapid HIV testing, including prepartum and extended postpartum counseling sessions. Our data suggest that the availability of round-the-clock rapid HIV testing resulted in successful documentation of HIV serostatus in a large proportion (82%) of rural women who were unaware of their HIV status when admitted to the labor room. In addition, 11 (73%) of a total of 15 HIV-positive women received PMTCT interventions because of round-the-clock rapid testing in the labor ward. These findings are relevant for PMTCT programs in developing countries.
Nitika Pant Pai and colleagues report the results of offering a round-the-clock rapid HIV testing program in a rural labor ward setting in India.
Since the first reported case of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in 1981, the number of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, has risen steadily. Now, more than 33 million people are infected, almost half of them women. HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, but mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV is also an important transmission route. HIV-positive women often pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and breastfeeding, if nothing is done to prevent viral transmission. In developed countries, interventions such as voluntary testing and counseling, safe delivery practices (for example, offering cesarean delivery to HIV-positive women), and antiretroviral treatment of the mother during pregnancy and labor and of her newborn baby have minimized the risk of MTCT. In developing countries, the prevention of MTCT (PMTCT) is much less effective, in part because pregnant women often do not know their HIV status. Consequently, in 2007, nearly half a million children became infected with HIV mainly through MTCT.
Why Was This Study Done?
In many developing countries, women do not receive adequate antenatal care. In India, for example, nearly half the women living in rural areas do not receive any antenatal care until they are in labor. This gives health care providers very little time in which to counsel women about HIV infection, test them for the virus, and start interventions to prevent MTCT. Furthermore, testing pregnant women in labor for HIV and counseling them is a challenge, particularly where resources are limited. In this study, therefore, the researchers investigate the feasibility and impact of introducing round-the-clock, rapid HIV testing and counseling in a busy labor ward in a rural teaching hospital in Sevagram, India.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Women admitted to the labor ward between January and September 2006 were offered two rapid HIV tests—one that used a saliva sample and the other that used blood taken from a finger prick. Blood was also taken from a vein for conventional HIV testing. All the women were given a 15-minute counseling session about how HIV is transmitted, the importance of HIV testing, and information on PMTCT before their child was born (prepartum counseling), and a longer postpartum counseling session. HIV-positive women were given a cesarean delivery where possible and antiretroviral drug treatment to reduce MTCT. 1,222 women admitted to the labor ward during the study period (1,003 of whom did not know their HIV status) accepted HIV testing. Of 15 study participants who were HIV positive, 11 learnt of their HIV status in the labor room. Two babies born to these HIV-positive women were HIV positive and died within a month of delivery; the other 13 babies were HIV negative at birth and at 1 and 4 months after delivery. Finally, the rapid HIV tests missed only one HIV-positive woman (no false-positive results were given), and the time from enrolling a woman into the study through referring her for PMTCT intervention where necessary averaged 40–60 minutes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show the feasibility and positive impact of the introduction of round-the-clock pre- and postpartum HIV counseling and rapid HIV testing into a busy rural Indian labor ward. Few of the women entering this ward knew their HIV status previously but the introduction of these facilities in this setting successfully informed these women of their HIV status. In addition, the round-the-clock counseling and testing led to 11 women and their babies receiving PMTCT interventions who would otherwise have been missed. These findings need to be confirmed in other settings and the cost-effectiveness and sustainability of this approach for the improvement of PMTCT in developing countries needs to be investigated. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that round-the-clock rapid HIV testing might be an effective and acceptable way to reduce MTCT of HIV in many developing countries.
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Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS and on HIV infection in women
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Women, Children, and HIV provides extensive information on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in developing countries
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in India, on women, HIV, and AIDS, and on HIV and AIDS prevention, including the prevention of mother-to-child transmission
AIDSinfo, a service of the US Department of Health and Human Services provides health information for HIV-positive pregnant women (in English and Spanish)