World AIDS Day 2020: Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility

How private sector innovations and initiatives are shaping the fight against HIV/AIDS

This Tuesday, December 1st is World AIDS Day, when the world comes together to raise awareness, support and remember those affected by HIV and AIDS, and to show global solidarity in the fight against the disease. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest event of 2020, and this year’s World AIDS Day reflects these circumstances. On one hand, the global community has perhaps never before been more focused on health, pandemics, and the global response to health threats. On the other hand, the pandemic has threatened the fight against HIV by leading to reduced access to health care (among other reasons), and has had a great impact on marginalized groups of people who were already vulnerable to HIV due to social and economic inequalities. 

The private sector has a vital role to play in contributing to the global solidarity and shared responsibility that is needed to respond to HIV. Not only does the private sector catalyze the development of the diagnostics, treatments, and other medical innovations that shape the fight against HIV, but it plays a key role supporting its workers and the communities in which it operates through workplace and community HIV programs. 

Lessons from COVID-19 & HIV/AIDS Response

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is Global solidarity, shared responsibility, which stems from the interconnectedness of the fights against HIV, COVID-19 and other diseases. “Like all epidemics, it is widening the inequalities that already existed,” said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director. “Whether campaigning for multimonth dispensing of HIV treatment, organizing home deliveries of medicines or providing financial assistance, food and shelter to at-risk groups… It is the strength within communities, inspired by a shared responsibility to each other, that has contributed in great part to our victories over HIV. Today, we need that strength more than ever to beat the colliding epidemics of HIV and COVID-19.” UNAIDS’ World AIDS Day 2020 report, Prevailing Against Pandemics by Putting People at the Centre, can be found here

“As with COVID-19, we can only defeat AIDS if we cooperate with the greater good in mind, working to overcome stigma and recognizing that global problems require global solutions,” said Nancy Wildfeir-Field, President, GBCHealth. “We must continue to work in partnership, with solidarity, to ensure that nobody is left behind and that we reach the key populations most vulnerable to these pandemics with the tools and information needed to overcome them.”

“One thing that we have learned from HIV [that can inform the response to COVID-19] is that no company and no sector can do this alone. To be successful at bringing breakthrough innovations to those that need them globally, we would need a multisectoral response,” said Paul Schaper, Executive Director, Global Health Policy, Merck & Co., Inc. Merck is taking lessons from its experience with HIV/AIDS to inform its COVID-19 response, including by working with partners to ensure that their products are accessible and affordable to governments and health systems across the globe. Merck also recently announced a collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to bring a new HIV prevention option to help address the HIV epidemic with a focus on women in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Innovative Treatments & Tools

The breadth and importance of private sector innovation in the response to HIV was on display during a recent online discussion hosted by GBCHealth and Friends of the Global Fight, titled Innovation in the Time of COVID-19: Developing and Scaling New Tools in the Fight against AIDS, TB, Malaria and Emerging Pandemics. Speakers highlighted innovative HIV treatments and prevention tools, as well as the importance of a holistic, multifaceted approach to HIV prevention and treatment.

Having a variety of products (diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and devices) and continuous, comprehensive innovation is needed. For the International Partnership on Microbicides (IPM), this means a multifaceted HIV prevention strategy, understanding that providing choice and options is the best way to make sure that there are tools for every person’s unique situation. IPM is developing the dapivirine vaginal ring, a revolutionary new tool used to prevent HIV in adolescent girls and young women, recognizing its role as part of an array of important tools. “Expanding women’s options so that they can choose the product that best meets their needs is essential to controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” they said.

For maximum impact, innovation must be adaptable to diverse groups of people with varying needs, including the young and old, those with mild to severe symptoms, and those who experience different risk factors. One example of a company making strides in this area is ViiV Healthcare, who is developing HIV treatment options for children to address gaps in pediatric HIV care, innovations that facilitate HIV control in adolescent girls and young women, and other ways to facilitate treatment throughout patients’ lives and ensure adherence while addressing the needs of key at-risk populations. The company recently shared that its long-acting injectable is highly effective in preventing HIV acquisition in women, which could be more effective than tablets that need to be taken daily. 

Innovation can only make an impact if it’s available to and used by those who need it. The Global Fund has stressed the need to scale up private sector innovations such as antiretroviral treatment, self-testing kits, PrEP/contraceptive combinations and other innovative new tools that can help reduce infections. The Global Fund wrote that we will “only beat HIV if we continue to innovate and accelerate the pace with which successful innovations are scaled up to benefit all those who need them… Better treatment regimens, longer-lasting, and with fewer side effects, can help improve treatment efficacy. Just as important are innovations in delivery models and service platforms such as… differentiated treatment models tailored to the needs of the different key populations, community led services, or social marketing strategies to increase usage of familiar, but still highly effective tools like condoms.”

Workplace & Community Initiatives

In addition to the development of innovative products and services, business has a vital role to play in ending AIDS, through relationships with employees, consumers and policymakers; core capabilities in logistics, data analytics and marketing; and financial and human resources that can all help to fill gaps in publicly funded HIV testing, prevention and treatment programs. Workplace programs are effective vehicles to not only promote HIV prevention but also to ensure access to treatment. HIV is a chronic disease, so the workplace is an ideal setting to ensure ongoing treatment adherence. The private sector also plays a key role in combatting HIV stigma and discrimination – which prevents people from seeking testing and treatment – through addressing workplace policies and culture and through business advocacy and leadership.

Chevron exemplifies a company engaged in workplace programs and advocacy efforts in support of its workforce, and the people within the communities where it operates. The company has been engaged in fighting HIV for decades, becoming the first oil and gas company to institute a global comprehensive HIV/AIDS Program and Policy for employees, including access to HIV treatment for employees and their dependents in 2005. Since 2008, Chevron has partnered with The Global Fund to support programs in many countries, contributing to the Fund’s success in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, reducing new infections and improving quality of life for people impacted by the disease.

Global solidarity, shared responsibility

Corporate engagement and initiatives for HIV are part of GBCHealth’s DNA. The collaboration around HIV/AIDS was the entry point for many companies across sectors in their engagement in public health issues. GBCHealth began its history as the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, and was founded during the time when HIV/AIDS soared at crisis levels and few companies had programs to protect their employees and communities.

On World AIDS Day 2020, we recognize the efforts of all people and organizations involved in the fight against HIV, from the people impacted by the disease to the organizations working on new tools to control the disease. We are committed to continue to do our part to leverage the full resources of the business community to come together to fight HIV. 

In the fight against HIV and AIDS, see below a number of upcoming online events:

On December 1st:

On December 3rd:

For social media messages to help spread awareness and the spirit of World AIDS Day, click  here for resources from UNAIDS and here for resources from the US CDC

Matt RomneyWorld AIDS Day 2020: Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility