World AIDS Day: Biotech and equity are allies in eradicating this disease

Today we are reminded that we can help end AIDS through biotech advances and improvements in equality.

World AIDS Day takes place annually on Dec. 1 and serves as an opportunity to raise awareness and come together in the fight against AIDS/HIV, including by supporting those living with HIV and remembering those who have perished from AIDS-related illnesses. Messages from UN and U.S. officials stressed the importance of equality and equity in achieving our goal of ending this deadly disease.

In 2021, there were 38.4 million people globally living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and last year, 650,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses, according to UNAIDS statistics.

“On World AIDS Day, UNAIDS joins with people living with HIV and communities around the world in one shared call to action: Equalize,” UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement. “Equalize access to rights, equalize access to services, equalize access to resources, equalize access to the best science and medicine.”

Equalizing education has proven to make a big difference in sub-Saharan Africa, where girls and young women are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys and men, according to Byanyima. “Enabling girls to stay in school until they complete secondary education reduces their vulnerability to HIV infection by up to 50%,” she said. “When we include comprehensive sexuality education and other measures for girls’ empowerment then their risk is reduced even further. That is why 12 African countries have come together in the Education Plus Initiative, supported by the United Nations.”

A focus on equality and equity is central to the U.S. Government’s theme for World AIDS Day, “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV,” according to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) of the U.S. State Department. “This theme echoes the Biden-Harris Administration’s dedication to ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat worldwide by addressing health disparities in communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and monkeypox.”

“We still have a hard road ahead, especially in addressing racial and gender gaps in our health systems, which have long driven inequitable HIV outcomes at home and abroad,” says a statement from President Biden published yesterday.

Biotech battles AIDS

The biotechnology industry continues its long commitment to providing hope for those living with HIV and AIDS.

Clinical trials by Moderna are underway as a result of messenger RNA (mRNA) technology pioneered in some COVID-19 vaccines, and the trials could pave the way for an HIV vaccine. “The development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine remains key to realizing a durable end to the HIV pandemic,” according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Earlier this year, the European Commission approved Marketing Authorization for the first ever twice-yearly HIV therapy, Sunlenca (lenacapavir). The groundbreaking therapy, developed by BIO member Gilead Sciences, is a twice-yearly HIV treatment for patients whose current therapy is no longer working.

This World AIDS Day, our thoughts are with all those living with HIV and AIDS and their friends and families, who see the toll it takes on their loved ones. The biotechnology sector is committed to innovating new therapies to one day make this suffering a distant memory.

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