SANTA BARBARA, Calif. and ABBOTT PARK, Ill., June 27, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Direct Relief International, the global health care company Abbott (NYSE: ABT) and its foundation, the Abbott Fund, today announced that they have reached a major milestone of distributing 20 million rapid HIV tests free of charge to HIV testing and counseling programs serving pregnant women and their families in 43 developing countries. 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).
About Direct Relief International
Direct Relief International is a leading medical relief organization, active in all 50 U.S. states and 70 countries. It works with more than 1,000 health clinics across the U.S. to assist in emergencies and on an ongoing basis, providing them with free medications for people in need. Direct Relief is among the largest medical suppliers to Haiti in response to the 2010 earthquake, has top charity ratings, including four-star and "top notch" rating from Charity Navigator, and a 100% fundraising efficiency rating from Forbes magazine.
For over a decade, Direct Relief has been distributing medicine and medical supplies to prevent and care for people with HIV. Direct Relief collaborates with Ministries of Health and nongovernmental organizations to provide an ongoing supply of medical commodities and drugs which are essential for their HIV programs. Through this extensive network of over 9,000 health facilities in countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, front-line healthcare providers have access to the supplies they need to provide HIV testing, treatment, and support for people living with or at risk of HIV infection.
About Abbott and the Abbott Fund
Abbott is a global, broad-based health care company devoted to the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of pharmaceuticals and medical products, including nutritionals, devices and diagnostics. The company employs approximately 91,000 people and markets its products in more than 130 countries. The Abbott Fund is a philanthropic foundation established by Abbott in 1951. The Abbott Fund's mission is to create healthier global communities by investing in creative ideas that promote science, expand access to health care and strengthen communities worldwide. For more information on Abbott or the Abbott Fund, visit www.abbott.com or www.abbottfund.org.
Representatives from Direct Relief, Abbott, and the Abbott Fund are available for print, radio, and broadcast interviews, and have full fiber optic and satellite transmission capability.
* The estimate of more than 150,000 averted cases of HIV is based on the conservative methodology used by PEPFAR and other global donors. This calculation takes the number of women participating in the testing program who test positive and are referred to treatment, and multiplies this number by 19 percent, which is the estimated effectiveness of single-dose treatment regimens (reducing vertical HIV transmission from 35 percent to 16 percent). According to PEPFAR, this is likely to significantly underestimate the number of averted cases of HIV, as many programs are now using more effective multi-drug regimens for PMTCT.