Background: The benefit of antiretroviral therapy in reducing maternal-fetal transmission of HIV during pregnancy has caused a public policy debate about the relative benefits of mandatory HIV screening and voluntary HIV screening in pregnant women.
Objective: To evaluate the benefits and risks of mandatory compared with voluntary HIV testing of pregnant women to help guide research and policy.
Design: A decision analysis that incorporated the following variables: acceptance and benefit of prenatal care, acceptance and benefit of zidovudine therapy in HIV-infected women, prevalence of HIV infection, and mandatory compared with voluntary HIV testing.
Measurements: The threshold deterrence rate (defined as the percentage of women who, if deterred from seeking prenatal care because of a mandatory HIV testing policy, would offset the benefit of zidovudine in reducing vertical HIV transmission) and the difference between a policy of mandatory testing and a policy of voluntary testing in the absolute number of HIV-infected infants or dead infants.
Results: Voluntary HIV testing was preferred over a broad range of values in the model. At baseline, the threshold deterrence rate was 0.4%. At a deterrence rate of 0.5%, the number of infants (n = 167) spared HIV infection annually in the United States under a mandatory HIV testing policy would be lower than the number of perinatal deaths (n = 189) caused by lack of prenatal care.
Conclusions: The most important variables in the model were voluntary HIV testing, the deterrence rate associated with mandatory testing compared with voluntary testing, and the prevalence of HIV infection in women of childbearing age. At high levels of acceptance of voluntary HIV testing, the benefits of a policy of mandatory testing are minimal and may create the potential harms of avoiding prenatal care to avoid mandatory testing.