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Law puts N.J. at front of war on infant HIV

Testing will become a routine part of prenatal care, and be required for at-risk newborns.


TRENTON - HIV testing will soon become part of routine prenatal care and be required for some newborns in New Jersey under a new law that supporters say puts the state in the forefront of the national fight against HIV transmission to babies.

With Gov. Corzine out of the country this week, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed the measure into law yesterday at University Hospital in Newark. The law will take effect in six months.

"We can significantly reduce the number of infections to newborns and help break down the stigma associated with the disease," said Codey (D., Essex), who sponsored the bill as Senate president.

Although women can opt out of the HIV testing, the American Civil Liberties Union and some women's groups contend the screening will deprive women of privacy rights and authority to make medical decisions.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit research organization focusing on U.S. health care, New Jersey is the first state to push HIV testing for both pregnant women and newborns.

Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas require health-care providers to test a mother for HIV unless she asks not to be tested, while Connecticut, Illinois and New York test all newborns, according to the foundation.

New Jersey has required providers only to offer HIV testing to pregnant women. Under the new law, HIV testing will be part of routine prenatal care, and doctors will provide pregnant woman with information about HIV and AIDS. Newborns will be tested when the mother has tested positive or her HIV status is unknown.

Riki E. Jacobs, executive director of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation in New Brunswick, said the law wouldn't help the women who didn't get prenatal care.

"We need to focus on getting people into care and keeping them in care," Jacobs said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that pregnant women be tested for HIV, but that testing be voluntary. It also found that medical intervention can cut the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission from 25 percent to 2 percent.

New Jersey has about 17,600 AIDS cases, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Women make up 32 percent, the third highest rate in the nation. The national average is 23 percent.

In 2005, seven of the approximately 114,000 babies born in New Jersey had HIV.