HIV testing of pregnant women—what is needed to protect positive women's needs and rights? Academic Article uri icon


  • With increased availability of antiretroviral therapy, there is an escalating global trend to test all pregnant women for HIV in order to stop perinatal transmission. However, insufficient consideration is given to the impact this may have on the lives of these women and their families. Many women feel pressured into HIV testing during pregnancy, do not receive adequate pre-test counselling or do not give truly informed consent. Some women who test positive experience significantly more discrimination from their partners, families and community members than HIV-positive men do. As a consequence, large numbers of women diagnosed during pregnancy do not tell their husband their status because they fear blame, abandonment or abuse, including physical assault. Women who do disclose their HIV status may face dramatic negative repercussions on their own and their children’s wellbeing. Consequently, it is unfair to test women during pregnancy solely or mainly to help prevent perinatal transmission if there are no available support services to protect the women’s rights, enable them to live healthily after an HIV-positive diagnosis and engage them in the policies and programmes that affect women’s lives. We need to create a climate that encourages HIV testing before pregnancy so that women can make informed reproductive choices. Men must be brought into the testing process through couple counselling before pregnancy and scaling up of voluntary counselling and testing programmes outside the antenatal care setting. In addition, people living with HIV have unique expertise and are very effective as peer counsellors. They have been under-utilised in the health care sector to provide support to newly-diagnosed people and to help eliminate AIDS-related shame and stigma.

publication date

  • 2005