Since the introduction of drugs to prevent vertical transmission of HIV, the purpose of and approach to HIV testing of pregnant women has increasingly become an area of major controversy. In recent years, many strategies to increase the uptake of HIV testing have focused on offering HIV tests to women in pregnancy-related services. New global guidance issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) specifically notes these services as an entry point for provider-initiated HIV testing and counseling (PITC). The guidance constitutes a useful first step towards a framework within which PITC sensitive to health, human rights and ethical concerns can be provided to pregnant women in health facilities. However, a number of issues will require further attention as implementation moves forward. It is incumbent on all those involved in the scale up of PITC to ensure that it promotes long-term connection with relevant health services and does not result simply in increased testing with no concrete benefits being accrued by the women being tested. Within health services, this will require significant attention to informed consent, pre- and post-test counseling, patient confidentiality, referrals and access to appropriate services, as well as reduction of stigma and discrimination. Beyond health services, efforts will be needed to address larger societal, legal, policy and contextual issues.
The health and human rights of pregnant women must be a primary consideration in how HIV testing is implemented; they can benefit greatly from PITC but only if it is carried out appropriately.