Rationale for HIV Testing during Labor and Delivery
The World Health Organization estimates that in 2010, only 61% of pregnant women in Eastern and Southern Africa were tested for HIV during pregnancy. Performing HIV testing in pregnancy is critically important because establishing the diagnosis of maternal HIV infection allows for implementation of additional measures that can significantly improve the mother's health and reduce the risk of HIV transmission to her infant[1,2]. Although initial HIV testing should ideally be performed early in pregnancy, diagnosing HIV infection later in pregnancy—even during labor and delivery with rapid HIV testing—still allows for interventions that are highly beneficial to the mother and her infant. Furthermore, pregnancy is a high-risk period for HIV acquisition[3,4,5]: a study from Kenya noted that 2.6% of women who were HIV negative antenatally tested positive at 6 weeks postpartum, and a similar study in South Africa found that 3.4% of HIV-negative women seroconverted during pregnancy. The WHO therefore recommends that women in high-prevalence regions who undergo HIV testing early in pregnancy should be systematically offered repeat HIV testing in the third trimester of pregnancy, or should be tested in labor if testing is not performed in the third trimester.
Feasibility and Acceptability of Testing during Labor and Delivery
Studies performed in multiple countries have found that rapid HIV testing in labor is both feasible and acceptable to women. For example, 98% of women in India accepted testing in the labor ward, 66% of women in South Africa consented to testing in the labor and delivery room (among those who declined HIV testing, 37% did so because they already knew their HIV status), and 88% of women in Cameroon accepted HIV testing. Rapid testing protocols have worked well in research settings, with studies reporting that they are able to deliver results to women within 60 minutes.
Protocols for HIV Testing in Labor
While rapid testing protocols generally require 2 positive rapid antibody tests from different manufacturers to confirm HIV infection, protocols in labor wards typically recommend offering PMTCT services to mothers as soon as one rapid test is positive in order to avoid delays in administering prophylactic antiretroviral therapy. Similarly, women with discordant rapid tests are usually offered PMTCT interventions while confirmatory testing is pursued.
PMTCT Interventions for Women Diagnosed with HIV during Labor
Appropriate interventions for women diagnosed with HIV during labor and delivery will depend on which PMTCT option has been adopted in that region. The WHO encourages countries with limited resources to adopt one of three PMTCT strategies (Options A, B, or B+) for HIV-infected pregnant women (Figure 1).
PMTCT Interventions for the Infant when Mother Diagnosed with HIV during Labor
Infant PMTCT interventions depend primarily upon whether or not the infant will receive breastmilk.
Post-delivery Evaluation and Care of Mothers
Women tested in labor often do not receive the full benefit of usual post-test counseling for HIV. At some point after delivery, mothers who test positive for HIV in labor should receive standard post-test counseling and education, including encouraging women to bring partners in for testing, support for disclosure, and HIV prevention education (Figure 4).
Cesarean Section for PMTCT in Resource-Limited Settings
Elective Cesarean section performed prior to the onset of labor and while the membranes are intact reduces intrapartum HIV transmission to infants of women who did not receive antenatal combination antiretroviral therapy[18,19]. Cesarean section has not been shown to provide additional benefit to women with a plasma HIV viral load less than 1000 copies/ml at delivery. Furthermore, even in resource-rich settings, Cesarean sections for HIV-infected women are associated with relatively high rates of surgical complications. In resource-limited settings, post-operative wound infection rates have been recorded as high as 19 to 25% for HIV positive and HIV negative women[2,11]. For these reasons, Cesarean section is not recommended in resource-limited settings as an intervention to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
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2 World Health Organization (WHO). Toward universal access: scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector, 2010.WHO
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