Public- and Private-Sector Partnerships are Key to Ending the HIV Epidemic
Nearly a year ago, President Trump announced an aspirational goal in his State of the Union address: to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the U.S. by 75% within five years, and by at least 90% within 10 years. This goal is certainly ambitious – but it is not unreachable.
In 2017, there were more than 38,000 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. While this number has declined 21% since 2008, it has remained stagnant in the last few years, and certain populations and regions, such as Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities, gay and bisexual men and the Southern U.S., are still disproportionately impacted by HIV.
Ending the HIV epidemic will take more than just scientific advances. It will require public- and private-sector partnerships that focus on disease treatment, prevention and education. In just one year, we’ve already made progress on these partnerships.
Last May, Gilead announced that it will donate up to 2.4 million free bottles of HIV prevention medication annually through 2030 to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help prevent HIV in support of the national efforts to end the epidemic. The CDC will use the donation to provide this medication at no cost for people who are at risk for HIV but have no public or private insurance coverage.
This donation, among the largest ever of a medication in the U.S., will be supplemented by greatly accelerated efforts to reach these individuals. It will create an opportunity for state and local partnerships to develop and implement protocols that are intended to help ensure uninsured people at risk of HIV are given access to prevention medication at no cost.
But according to CDC, medication price is a barrier for less than 1% of people who need HIV prevention medicines. To have an impact on this disease and to help end the epidemic, we need to address the root causes, such as racism, stigma, homophobia and transphobia, particularly in communities disproportionally impacted by HIV.
For example, the Southern U.S. makes up 38% of the country’s population, but accounted for 45% of all people living with HIV and 52% of all new diagnoses in 2017. Despite declines in infections, some communities in the South, such as Black and Latino gay and bisexual men, are actually seeing increases in infections.
In the fall of 2017, we launched our COMPASS Initiative, an unprecedented more than $100 million commitment over 10 years to support local organizations working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the south. This program was designed to improve the quality of and access to care, enhance local leadership and advocacy, and change the public perception of HIV/AIDS in the region.
Through strong partnerships with community groups and local government organizations, we are providing the effective and appropriate resources that meet the needs of the people in communities affected by the epidemic. Innovative collaborations with organizations on the frontlines demonstrate how providing resources, skills and support to those at the frontline of the epidemic will help address the stigma surrounding HIV in this region.
Late last year, I had the honor of joining our friends at the National AIDS Memorial to unveil part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt that was recently returned to its home in San Francisco. The Quilt, which contains more than 50,000 panels and weighs approximately 54 tons, commemorates more than 105,000 individuals who have died of AIDS-related complications.
The Quilt serves as a stark reminder of just how far we’ve come in turning what was once a death sentence into a chronic disease for many people – but also reminds us of how much work we have to do. We’re proud to be a part of this initiative to end the HIV epidemic and look forward to continued partnership with public- and private-sector organizations to make this goal a reality.
Brett Pletcher is the Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and General Counsel at Gilead.