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Empowering young women to help make HIV history – World AIDS Day 2015

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Each year, 380,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV. That’s 7,300 every week, over 1,000 every day. Of new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa, girls and young women make up 74 percent.

These heart-stopping facts are staggering, but it wasn’t until this past summer when I saw the latest data and had the privilege to meet some of these young women on a learning trip to Durban, South Africa, that the impact of this growing trend in global health hit home for me. Immediately I realized that the future of fragile communities like Durban depends on the health and well-being of its young women and their babies.

A month later, while participating in a panel discussion organized by our long-time partner the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), I learned even more about this urgent global health problem and the critical need to empower young women and adolescent girls to live healthy and productive lives. Coverage of a recent UNICEF report drives home this point further with headlines declaring AIDS deaths among adolescents in Africa tripled since 2000.

World AIDS Day offers an important reminder to join with the rest of the global community to remember those we have lost to AIDS, celebrate the significant progress that has been made, and most importantly, reflect on how we can address the work that still needs to be done.

Too many of the world’s most vulnerable people today still are not receiving the treatment, care or education they need to live healthy lives or to protect themselves and others from HIV infection. And adolescent girls are by far at greatest risk in communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is why today, as part of Johnson & Johnson’s deep commitment to address the most pressing global health issues, we’re announcing four new public-private partnerships – through our Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies – that aim to significantly reduce the burden of HIV incidence in adolescent girls. They include:

  • Joining forces with the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) DREAMS Initiative — as an anchor partner together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Girl Effect — by providing $15 million in combined funding and in-kind contributions to support a suite of programs focused on empowering adolescent girls, ensuring improved access to treatment and prevention options, and creating supporting communities.
  • Expanding our support of access and innovation programs with existing and new partners – IPM, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and Connect For LifeTM to further increase our focus on the most vulnerable
  • Galvanizing employee and public support for HIV-related causes by donating funds to Born Free Africa through Donate-A-Photo and to the (RED) campaign through Charity Miles.

These new initiatives build on our 25-year legacy working with partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS through a broad portfolio of strategic philanthropy and developing and providing access to transformational medicines and combination therapies. Our collaborative efforts have resulted in significant gains in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, increased access to existing HIV medicines and care, and collaborative research on innovative tools and treatments such as a long-acting, injectable formulation for HIV, microbicide tools for prevention and a possible vaccine.

Through all of these initiatives, we are working to ensure that every baby is born HIV-free, adolescents have the tools to stay HIV-free and that those living with HIV have access to simplified treatment and care. And it is our hope that this integrated and outcomes-based approach to tackling critical global health challenges at every stage of life will have long-term impact for whole communities, not just individuals, in the world’s most vulnerable populations.

As Johnson & Johnson continues to focus on areas with the greatest need, we proudly contribute to efforts that can lead the world to an AIDS-free generation, and to making HIV history.

Jaak Peeters is the head of Global Public Health at Johnson & Johnson.

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