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Doctors urged to offer more HIV tests

Doctors are being urged to offer more HIV tests to pregnant women Keystone

The Federal Health Office has urged doctors to be more proactive in offering HIV tests to patients, especially pregnant women and people with transmittable diseases.

This content was published on May 21, 2007 - 16:49

The guidelines are based on a concept developed by the United Nations in which the initiative for early diagnosis of Aids lies more with doctors than with patients.

"The part about pregnant women is not new – we've had this recommendation for four years and in that time we haven't seen one HIV-affected child born by an HIV positive woman in Switzerland," Roger Staub, head of the Health Office's Aids unit, told swissinfo.

"The recommendation we have now is telling medical doctors working in Switzerland that they should not forget to suggest an HIV test for example to... people with sexually transmitted diseases or who engage in risky behaviour."

Staub confirmed that most women who are offered HIV tests actually take them, and if they come back positive "the mother will be treated with anti-retrovirals before birth and then she will have a Caesarian".

The tests remain voluntary and are handled confidentially. Staub dismisses talk of making such tests compulsory.

"I haven't heard any arguments for this. The Swiss experience of offering HIV tests to pregnant women and zero-infected babies shows that it is working without obligation."

Staub added the Swiss guidelines are nothing unusual.

"Most Western countries recommend offering tests to pregnant women and I think we are in line with other arguments... that doctors should not forget the possibility of HIV and should therefore talk with the client or patient about this," he said.

Successes

The recommendations come a month after a campaign by the Swiss Aids Foundation and the Federal Health Office urged people to take an HIV test if they had any doubts about their past sexual encounters.

The latest Love Life – Stop Aids campaign called on people to take the necessary precautions before embarking on a new relationship to minimise the risk of infection.

In recent years there has been a worrying increase in the number of HIV cases among gay men in Switzerland – up 34 per cent in 2005 - which has led to some questioning of Health Office campaigns by gay organisations.

But the first Health Office anti-Aids campaign goes back to 1987 and Staub says there have been successes.

"After 20 years of campaigns, we can say that there has been no massive spread of Aids among the Swiss population. And this was one of our objectives," he said.

swissinfo

In brief

The first case of Aids in Switzerland, diagnosed posthumously, was in 1981. Cases reached a peak of around 700 a year in the early 1990s.

The number of new Aids cases has now dropped to around 210 to 240 per year. In 2006, there were an estimated 150 new cases.

Since 2000 the number of people testing HIV positive has been rising (580 in 2000), with 750 diagnoses last year.

The increase was mainly among gay and bisexual men, with a decrease among drug addicts and heterosexuals.

Aids cases numbered 8,588 by the end of 2006. 5,669 people have died of the disease in Switzerland.

Around 25 million people are thought to have died of Aids worldwide.

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HIV/Aids

A person infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is said to be HIV positive and may not show any symptoms.

If a person has Aids, he or she is infected with HIV and has signs and symptoms of the disease.

HIV is the virus while Aids is the disease that it causes. There is no cure.

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