Today marks historic milestones for Abbott, The Abbott Fund and Direct Relief. Partnering together for over 10 years, 20 million rapid HIV tests have been distributed free of charge to HIV testing and counseling programs serving pregnant women and their families in 43 developing countries and more than 150,000 HIV cases have been prevented in children.
Expanding HIV testing for pregnant women is an essential component in helping to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, a key focus in the global effort to combat HIV/AIDS.
To facilitate access to HIV testing for PMTCT, Abbott and the Abbott Fund made a commitment in 2002 to donate 20 million rapid HIV tests to programs in Africa and the world’s Least Developed Countries. To date, more than 150 partner organizations have participated in the program, serving more than 8,000 health facilities. HIV-positive mothers identified through the program can receive free and convenient therapy to help prevent their child from being infected with HIV. As a result, a minimum of 150,000 new cases of HIV have been averted in infants over the past ten years.*
“Helping pregnant mothers to know their HIV status is a critical step in advancing access to treatment and preventing the transmission of HIV to children,” said Katherine Pickus, divisional vice president of Global Citizenship & Policy, Abbott, and vice president, the Abbott Fund. “By donating 20 million rapid HIV tests, we have helped thousands of children to be born without HIV. We are grateful to Direct Relief International and the local-country implementing partners for their work in helping us to reach so many mothers and families across the developing world.”
“People who are poor or living in rural areas should have equal access to the benefits of HIV prevention and treatment as those who have the financial means or live in urban areas. Direct Relief is committed to increasing access to HIV testing, prevention, care, and treatment for people across the world,” said Thomas Tighe, President and CEO of Direct Relief.
Every day, approximately 1,000 children worldwide acquire HIV—over 90 percent are infected through mother-to-child transmission. Rapid HIV tests allow any program in a remote setting to share test results in 15 minutes, regardless of access to lab equipment or electricity. By ensuring pregnant women know their HIV status and enrolling those that are HIV positive in appropriate care and treatment, the HIV transmission rate from mother to child can be reduced to less than 5 percent, according to UNAIDS.
Direct Relief, Abbott and the Abbott Fund will continue to work with existing key implementing organizations in 2012 to provide free rapid HIV testing to pregnant women, as well as spouses and children of pregnant women who are found to be HIV positive.
Globally, there were approximately 1.4 million pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle- income countries in 2010, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The 22 highest affected countries account for 90 percent of the new HIV infections in children. However, progress is being made. In 2005, only 15 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries received anti-retroviral therapies for PMTCT; in 2010, that number rose to 48 percent of women in need who received anti-retroviral therapies for PMTCT (WHO).