Background. With the increase in HIV infection among childbearing aged women in Hong Kong, health department policy-makers are considering the implementation of antenatal HIV screening to identify infected mothers. However, little is known about women's understanding of HIV/AIDS, and their attitudes towards HIV screening.
Aim. The aim of this study was to explore pregnant women's knowledge about HIV/AIDS, their perceptions of risk, risk behaviour and management, and their attitudes towards HIV screening.
Methods. A cross-sectional study was carried out, and all Chinese pregnant women who attended an antenatal clinic of a regional hospital in Hong Kong in the month of December 2000 were invited to complete a questionnaire.
Findings. Hong Kong pregnant women had fairly good general knowledge of HIV/AIDS (mean score = 4·8/6), but were less knowledgeable on specific mother-to-child HIV transmission (mean score = 3·6/6). There were statistically significant differences between those with different levels of education (χ2 = 19·81; P < 0·001) and between Hong Kong born residents and immigrants from the Chinese mainland (z = −4·03; P < 0·001). Over a third (36·7%) of all pregnant women perceived a risk of contracting HIV. If HIV infection were suspected, over 70% would have HIV screening together with their spouse. If HIV was confirmed, 24% would terminate the pregnancy. As many as 78·5% and 72·8% of women believed that HIV screening should be carried out before marriage and pregnancy respectively. Only 4·7% would choose universal opt-out antenatal HIV testing.
Recommendations. Health educators should provide tailored-made education programmes for women at risk, particularly those at lower education levels and those who have come from the Chinese mainland, to enhance their knowledge about mother-to-child HIV transmission, and to promote awareness of safe sex. Health policy-makers should consider the possibility of providing pre-marriage and pre-pregnancy HIV screening for women.