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Gilead Unveils $100M Commitment to Ending HIV in the U.S. South

(Photo Credit: Stephen Lucin)

On Monday, December 4th, at the second annual Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit in New Orleans, Gilead Sciences announced a new 10-year, $100 million-dollar commitment to “support organizations working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States."

This announcement supports data collection over the past few years indicating that HIV in the South is still running at epidemic levels, especially in marginalized communities of color.

HIV continues to affect marginalized communities, especially those in the South. According to the CDC, eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses are in the Southern United States, and this part of the country lags behind other regions in most HIV prevention and care indicators.

According to the press release, “The launch of the Gilead COMPASS (COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV/AIDS in Southern States) Initiative, is a 10-year, $100 million commitment to support organizations working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States. Gilead will partner with three coordinating centers to lead the corporate giving program of the initiative: Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and the Southern AIDS Coalition. These coordinating centers will identify and provide funding to local organizations that are committed to addressing the epidemic throughout the region, focusing on capacity building and shared knowledge; wellbeing, mental health and trauma-informed care; and awareness, education and anti-stigma campaigns.”

According to the CDC, nearly 45% of people living with the virus are located in the South, despite only being one third of the population. An issue that Gregg Alton, Executive Vice President of Corporate and Medical Affairs at Gilead, spoke on the presser.

“HIV/AIDS remains an urgent public health crisis in the United States and this is particularly apparent in the Southern states where rates of new infection rival those seen in the 1980s,” said Alton. “In some communities, those rates are actually rising – a chilling reminder that the epidemic is far from a thing of the past. We recognize a collaborative effort is needed and we are very pleased to partner with local organizations that are uniquely positioned to address the epidemic on the ground.”

According to the CDC, HIV disproportionally affects Latinos, transgender women, Black women, and Black gay and bisexual men, in part due to stigma, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and racial inequality. Of all Black gay and bisexual men who were diagnosed with HIV in the United States in 2014, more than 60 percent live in a Southern state.

“Limited access to healthcare and information about life-saving advances in HIV treatment and prevention in the most vulnerable communities creates an environment where we, as a society, have the tools in hand to improve lives, but these resources are not being fully utilized to address the epidemic,” said Dr. Charlene Flash, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Baylor College of Medicine. “We must take action and apply these resources to overcome this challenge as too many vulnerable people in the South cannot access, or worse still, are unaware of the existing life-saving tools to prevent and treat HIV.” 

The Gilead COMPASS Initiative will support organizations working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The corporate giving program of the initiative has a threefold mission: to build capacity and increase knowledge-sharing among organizations in Southern states; to explore interventions that appropriately respond to patients’ needs, including the bundling or reframing of mental health care, as well as the intersection between substance use, the opioid epidemic and HIV/AIDS; and to fund awareness and anti-stigma campaigns.

Through this initiative, Gilead plans to dramatically increase the reach of these organizations working to address the epidemic in the region, and ultimately to improve the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS.