Editor’s note: World AIDS Day, which is Monday, Dec. 1, serves as a reminder that while significant progress has been made in the global battle against HIV/AIDS, there is still much more to be done and we must recommit to the goal of Getting to Zero. Johnson & Johnson, driven by our purpose of caring, remains committed to the prevention, detection, education and treatment of HIV/AIDS. This blog post is the first in a series intended to provide a glimpse of these efforts and some of the individuals leading them.
When I attended my first International AIDS Conference in 2002, UNAIDS reported that fewer than 30,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa had benefited from antiretroviral drugs. Even treating one million people on the continent was unimaginable at that time.
Fast-forward 12 years to this year’s conference in Melbourne, Australia, where I learned nearly 14 million people living with HIV in low and middle-income countries are now being treated, according to the most recent UNAIDS report.
This is very promising news. However, not all the news is good. As we approach World AIDS Day we are reminded that there is more work to be done, especially for adolescents. Alarmingly AIDS-related deaths among adolescents continue to increase – while in all other age groups they are falling.
Consider from 2005 to 2012, AIDS-related deaths in adolescents increased by about 50 percent (from 71,000 in 2005 to 110,000 in 2012); contrast this with a 30 percent decrease among all other age groups, according to UNICEF’s Children and AIDS report.
Many of these young people were infected as babies either perinatally or during breast-feeding before the extensive, and highly successful, roll-out of Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.
Why are AIDS-related deaths in adolescents increasing so shockingly? The low level of HIV testing among adolescents is likely part of the reason – adolescents who do not know they are infected with HIV are unlikely to seek treatment, and their diagnosis may be delayed until they experience AIDS symptoms when it may be too late for treatment. Also the number of HIV-infected children receiving antiretroviral therapy is still appallingly low – a mere 24 percent, according to UNAIDS Gap report. And although data is limited, studies suggest that adolescents in HIV care and treatment have poor retention and adherence outcomes. Better data are needed to enhance our understanding of AIDS-related deaths and other health outcomes among adolescents.
We know that young people infected with HIV can lead full and productive lives – if they have access to appropriate care and treatment. Earlier this year Janssen, the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson, launched an initiative called New Horizons Advancing Pediatric HIV Treatment. At the core of this is a drug donation program to expand access to the company’s approved HIV medicines for children and adolescents failing HIV treatment in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Together with our partners, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), the Partnership for Supply Chain Management (PFSCM), and MAP International, we invited Ministries of Health in sub-Saharan Africa to submit an Expression of Interest to participate in the donation program. An independent Review Committee of international experts in pediatric HIV assessed the applications and the first four countries were selected – Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia; those countries are now receiving our pediatric HIV medicines. The next Expression of Interest will open for applications from countries in SSA and Least Developed Countries on 4th February 2015.
The donation program is intended to be a catalyst. But we cannot do this alone. Ours is one small part of a much larger effort to accelerate access to treatment for children and adolescents infected with HIV. This year’s International AIDS Conference was an opportunity to come together with partners and stakeholders to determine how we can accelerate HIV treatment of children and adolescents by leveraging our resources, combining our efforts and aligning our initiatives.
At Janssen, we are committed to doing our part to bring the hope of a full and productive life to young people living with HIV to reality.
Hear Dr. Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson and Worldwide Chairman, Janssen, speak about this important new initiative.
Karen Manson is Senior Director of Global Citizenship and Sustainability for Janssen the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. She co-leads the New Horizons Advancing Pediatric HIV Treatment initiative. She has spent more than 10 years with Janssen, the majority in Infectious Diseases and Vaccines leading communications, advocacy and stakeholder engagement with a special focus on access to healthcare and R&D for diseases of the developing world. Karen received a Bachelor of Veterinary Science from Massey University in New Zealand (NZ) and earned an MBA from Auckland University in NZ.
About the work Johnson & Johnson is doing to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS:
As a transformational medical innovator Janssen, the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson, is committed to developing medicines and comprehensive solutions against HIV/AIDS. Through the Janssen Global Public Health HIV Medicines Access and Partnerships Program our efforts to ensure affordable and sustainable access to our HIV medicines in least developed countries are working. During the course of 2014 we launched a collaborative commitment, New Horizons Advancing Pediatric HIV Treatment, to build awareness and incite action around the unmet needs of HIV treatment-experienced children and adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition we have more than 100 philanthropic programs in more than 50 least developed countries that attempt to address the needs of those affected by HIV/AIDS.