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BACKGROUND: The routine offering of testing for HIV during each pregnancy is recommended by various advisory bodies, including the Canadian Paediatric Society. OBJECTIVES: To determine the proportion of women in Nova Scotia who were counselled about HIV and HIV testing during their pregnancies and to determine the proportion of those who underwent the blood test after counselling. METHODS: A Self-administered survey at the IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia was performed. Questionnaires were distributed to 800 new mothers who delivered a child between March 10 and May 10, 2000. The questionnaire asked women for their ages, levels of education, history of previous deliveries, whether they had received counselling about HIV during their pregnancy, whether they were offered an HIV blood test and whether they underwent an HIV blood test. RESULTS: A total of 155 questionnaires were returned (response rate of 19.4%). The proportion of women who were counselled about HIV during their pregnancy was 65 of 155 (41.9%) (95% CI 34.1 to 49.7) and the proportion of those who were counselled who underwent the test was 47 of 65 (72.3%) (95% CI 65.3 to 79.3). There was a significant difference between the proportion counselled and history of previous deliveries (P=0.050), the proportion offered a test and their ages (P=0.028), and the proportion who had a test done and their ages (P=0.017). CONCLUSIONS: There is inadequate compliance with the recommendation that all women be offered HIV testing during each pregnancy at the IWK Health Centre. Health care professionals involved in obstetrics need to be reminded of the importance of HIV counselling and testing during pregnancy. Further evaluation throughout Canada of the effect of HIV screening recommendations during pregnancy is advisable.