Decades of Progress in the Fight against HIV/AIDS
A Mysterious Disease
Victor Hung, Bristol-Myers Squibb Research Scientist
In June of 1981, when Elliott Sigal, M.D., Ph.D., began his training in internal and pulmonary medicine as an intern at the University of California, San Francisco, the very first patient he admitted had AIDS. “But we didn’t call it AIDS at the time,” remembers Sigal, now chief scientific officer and president, R&D, for Bristol-Myers Squibb. “We didn’t know what it was. Young men would come in with an unclear illness, and it was almost always fatal.” We may not have known it at the time, but that was among the first skirmishes in what was to become a worldwide fight against an elusive and cunning foe: HIV.
At first, the global threat of HIV/AIDS was anything but apparent, and early response to the disease was slow. In fact, the acronym “AIDS” wasn’t even used until the end of 1982 and “HIV” wasn’t identified until 1983.
Allied Forces in this Fight
Today, decades later, thanks to an unprecedented alliance of pharmaceutical industry, government, academia, philanthropic organizations and patient advocacy groups, health experts worldwide agree that awareness has increased, prevention has improved and overall progress has been made against HIV/AIDS. According to the AIDS epidemic update from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and World Health Organization (WHO), the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined more than 10 percent over the past five years - from 2.2 million in 2005 to 2 million in 2007. There are more people living with HIV than ever before, and patients are living longer.
On World AIDS Day (December 1) each year, the public’s attention is directed towards the progress in treatment, prevention and access that has created significant momentum against the deadly disease. However, this awareness day also reminds us that we cannot be complacent as there are still an estimated 33.4 million people living with HIV worldwide and there were an estimated 2.7 million new infections in 2008. So just as importantly, the millions of people who wear red ribbons to mark the annual event are stark reminders of the enormous health challenge that still remains.
A Formula for Success
There are undeniable hurdles to overcome in the fight against HIV. While success in addressing this disease requires leadership in science, it more importantly requires a commitment to the community and a focus on the individual person with HIV/AIDS.
This formula helped to inform the work of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s groundbreaking SECURE THE FUTURE® program. Since 1999, the company has committed more than $150 million to more than 240 projects focused on community education, outreach, medical care and research designed to help confront HIV/AIDS in Africa. Over that period, the program has broadened its reach from 5 to 20 countries and remained flexible in scope to meet the changing programmatic needs of the nations in need.
As part of SECURE THE FUTURE, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Baylor College of Medicine have established the largest network of pediatric HIV/AIDS clinics in Africa, staffed in part by corps of pediatricians from North America. Five pediatric clinical centers and about 20 satellite clinics in Africa treat thousands of HIV-positive children and their families. Two additional centers of excellence for pediatric AIDS are under construction.
Ongoing efforts such as that of the SECURE THE FUTURE program provide a base to continue the fight against this insidious disease – and address unmet patient needs.
The HIV Challenge in the U.S.
The Obama Administration has placed emphasis on a national AIDS strategy to address the HIV epidemic in the U.S. Bristol-Myers Squibb is poised for the challenge.
There are more than a million Americans who are currently living with HIV and an estimated 640,000 people with HIV, who for a myriad of reasons, are either undiagnosed, not in medical care or not receiving HIV treatment.
Determined to find out what was standing in the way of patient care, Bristol-Myers Squibb commissioned a national survey which found that personal and societal barriers like stigma, fear, denial and shame are significant hurdles preventing those with HIV from seeking out treatment. These findings also reveal that health care providers may underestimate the role these barriers play.
Armed with the survey findings, Bristol-Myers Squibb is collaborating with the National AIDS Fund (NAF) – a leading organization dedicated to reducing the incidence and impact of HIV/AIDS in the communities – on a multiyear outreach initiative, titled Positive Charge, aimed at helping to break down barriers to HIV care, treatment and necessary support.
“These [survey] findings illustrate the continued need to address the key personal and societal barriers like stigma, fear and denial, as well as structural barriers such as the health care system capacity, lack of transportation and housing. In other words, we need to view the needs of the whole person, not just treat the disease,” says Kandy Ferree, president and CEO of NAF. “World AIDS Day is an opportunity for us all to remember that there are a lot of people with HIV/AIDS right here in the U.S. who can’t access medical care. We believe both the business and community sectors must work together to address these issues head on and ensure all people living with HIV/AIDS get the care they need.”
Bristol-Myers Squibb has been on the forefront of innovation for two decades in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and this collaboration provides another example of how the company, as a global organization, hopes to make a difference in the lives of people living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS. The goals of the Positive Charge initiative are closely aligned with those of the national HIV/AIDS strategy; it is designed to support programs customized to meet the unique needs of individuals living with HIV.
Although this Global fight is not yet won, significant advances have been made. Together with the HIV community, Bristol-Myers Squibb is committed to furthering its efforts to prevail over HIV/AIDS.