New Jersey Would Be First in Nation to Require Statewide Testing for Both
TRENTON – In a move that could put New Jersey at the forefront in the national fight against HIV transmission to newborns, Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) today announced that he is introducing a bill in the Senate that would require all pregnant women and newborn babies to be screened for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), making New Jersey the only state to require universal statewide testing for both.
“The key in the fight against HIV and AIDS is early detection and treatment,” said Sen. Codey. “For newborns this can be a lifesaving measure. If early detection can help reduce newborn infections and improve the quality of life for newborns and women that are infected, then by all means, we should be doing it.”
The bill is modeled after recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last fall. In a September 2006 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC estimated that perinatal transmission rates can be reduced to less than two percent with universal screening of pregnant women in combination with prophylactic administration of antiretroviral drugs, a cesarean delivery and avoidance of breast feeding.
Sen. Codey’s bill would require that all pregnant women be tested for HIV as early as possible in their pregnancy and again during their third trimester. Each birthing facility in the state would also be required to test every newborn in its care for HIV.
Sen. Codey noted that testing newborns, regardless of whether the mother’s HIV status is known at the time of birth, serves as a safety net to ensure that all newborns who may be at risk of contracting HIV receive prompt access to treatment. Other states have cited this safety net as particularly important in identifying newborns who may be HIV positive but whose mothers tested HIV negative, possibly because the mother was recently exposed to HIV and had not yet developed antibodies.
The measure would move New Jersey from “opt in” status to “opt out” status, meaning women and newborns would be automatically tested unless they choose, in writing, not to have the test. Sen. Codey noted that the move is designed to increase detection, treatment and prevention of HIV, particularly for segments of the population that are most at risk and often overlooked.
The bill would also require that physicians and health care practitioners provide women with information about HIV and AIDS, the benefits of being tested, the medical treatment available to treat HIV infection, and the reduced rate of transmission to a fetus if an HIV-infected pregnant woman receives treatment.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Newborn Screening and Genetics Resource Center, New York is the only other state that requires universal testing for newborns, while Connecticut, Illinois and Indiana require testing, only if the mother was not tested during pregnancy and/or if the provider thinks its medically necessary. Of those four states, none require universal opt-out testing for pregnant mothers.
“In a state with some of the highest HIV rates among women, this move should be a no-brainer,” added Sen. Codey. “The additional benefit of testing every woman is that it reduces the stigma associated with testing only those based on their risk behaviors and should, as statistics show, make women less inclined to refuse the test.”
Sen. Codey’s bill charges the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services with adopting regulations to carry out the testing requirements, as well as guidelines for the information that physicians must provide their patients on testing, treatment and counseling.
Sen. Codey intends to formally introduce the bill when the Senate reconvenes.