How Gilead Is Leveraging Science And The Power Of Collaboration To Tackle Inequities In HIV
Today, Tuesday, June 27, marks National HIV Testing Day (#HIVTestingDay and #NHTD). Across the globe, Black people disproportionately bear the brunt of HIV. The United States is no exception. Despite making up only 14% of the population in 2020, Black people in the U.S. represented 42% of new HIV diagnoses and 40% of all people living with HIV.
For more than 35 years, Gilead has been fighting alongside Black communities to end the HIV epidemic and the stigma that so often accompanies it.
Gilead Sciences Senior Director of Global HIV Medical Affairs David Malebranche and Executive HIV Community Liaison Danielle Houston spoke with BLACK ENTERPRISE about how Gilead’s HIV work in Black communities and the South is helping to change the lives of those living with HIV.
As a board-certified internal medicine physician specializing in sexual health and HIV, Malebranche’s career has lived at the intersection of patient care and treatment access, both of which are impeded by health inequities facing many Black communities. In his role at Gilead, Malebranche is laser-focused on advancing Gilead’s HIV therapies and finding solutions to help overcome systemic barriers that limit access to life-changing medicines.
“I’m extremely proud of how Gilead intentionally establishes itself within the HIV treatment and health equity landscapes,” Malebranche said. “If we look back to 1999 and into the early 2000s, things started to ramp up in scientific innovation and combination therapy with two medications in one pill. In 2006, Gilead created the first once-daily, single-tablet regimen that ushered in a new era of what’s possible in reducing the risk of infection and maintaining effective viral suppression in individuals infected with HIV.”
“Today, people with an HIV diagnosis can have life expectancies that are very comparable to individuals who are not HIV-positive. We know the potential of these medicines, but they can’t reach their fullest potential unless they are available to people and communities that need them most. What Gilead has been able to accomplish over the past thirty-five years in HIV treatment is astounding. I am eager to see what’s on the horizon as we continue to apply a health equity lens across our HIV research, programs, and partnerships that benefit Black communities.”
Houston, too, admires Gilead’s intentional work in the HIV space. As an Executive HIV Community Liaison, she is dedicated to securing strategic partnerships with organizations and institutions committed to ending the HIV epidemic and engaging with clients at every stage of the HIV continuum of care.
“One of Gilead’s strongest commitments is our workforce of community liaisons,” Houston said. “Gilead empowers my team to use its innovative scientific community resources across local territories where our HIV community liaisons live, work, play, and pray. This allows us to leverage the personal knowledge and connections of our liaisons who know the names of those we are helping and can help facilitate resources that meet their specific needs.”
As an alumnus of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and a Texas native, Houston has seen first-hand the devastation of the HIV epidemic across the Southern U.S. “We can’t forget that geography, in addition to race and ethnicity, is also a driver of an individual’s likelihood to be diagnosed with HIV and to receive quality care. That is why programs like COMPASS Initiative are so critical.”
There is a high concentration of need in Southern states, which account for 52% of all new HIV cases annually, despite only making up 38% of the U.S. population. Racial disparities also persist there, with Black Southerners representing half of all new HIV diagnoses in the region, even though they make up only 19% of the Southern population. Gilead’s COMPASS Initiative – short for COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV/AIDS in Southern States – is a ten-year, $100 million commitment to address systemic challenges that contribute to the HIV epidemic in the region. Notably, the program leans into the power of community collaboration and local leadership to help address health inequities.
Since 2017, COMPASS has focused on increasing awareness of HIV, battling stigma, and improving access to and the quality of healthcare services for people living with HIV, especially among Black communities. To date, the initiative has provided nearly 400 community-based organizations with over $106 million to provide on-the-ground support and care.
COMPASS is just one of many efforts the biopharma giant has created to advance equity. In 2020, Gilead launched its Racial Equity Community Impact Fund, a three-year program providing $10 million in grants to 20 organizations working to tackle racial inequities affecting Black communities across the United States.
“COMPASS Initiative and the Racial Equity Community Impact Fund are particularly important to the work of our community liaisons because they focus on directing funds and programs to areas disproportionately impacted by HIV,” said Houston. “In the U.S., more than half of new diagnoses are occurring in the South, so getting funding and resources into the hands of the people who have been doing the work for years is critical for promoting health equity and eliminating barriers, especially across Black communities in southern states.”
Gilead has also teamed up with HBCUs in the South to help shape the next generation of Black medical professionals. With its established partnerships with Morehouse College and the Xavier University of Louisiana, Gilead has created a college-to-career pipeline for Black men and women in the medical profession.
“We are focused on education and training so that more Black medical professionals are working in HIV prevention, treatment, and sexual health,” Malebranche told BE. “Representation matters, so when there are more of us in the medical field, it serves as an inspiration to younger people who plan to pursue a medical career but may not know they can focus specifically on HIV prevention and treatment. It is valuable and affirming in all forms of medical care when our healthcare providers look like us.”
Gilead continues to serve as a trusted ally in the fight against HIV. In June 2023, the organization announced its Setting the P.A.C.E. funding opportunity, a three-year, $10 million philanthropic investment to increase HIV prevention, anti-stigma, and health equity efforts for Black women and girls – both cisgender and transgender – in the U.S. The funding is a response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that reveal cisgender Black women and girls continue to be diagnosed with HIV at disproportionately high rates compared to white and Hispanic/Latina women.
Setting the P.A.C.E. will support regional- and national-focused projects working to improve the HIV landscape through the development of prevention training and informational resources, arts and advocacy, community and non-profit capacity building, and education. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until July 28, at www.gilead.com/purpose/giving/funding-requests.
“Helping those living with HIV live longer, healthier and fuller lives requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” added Malebranche. From medical innovation and partnerships with local HIV organizations to funding opportunities that improve access and health outcomes, Gilead will remain hard at work to advance efforts to end the HIV epidemic and serve as a beacon of hope for Black communities disproportionately impacted by HIV.”