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An Open Letter from Macaya Douoguih, M.D., MPH, on Systemic Racism and Health Disparities

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AIDS 2020 Delegates:

The heightened awareness of the deadly consequences of racism has converged on a global scale with the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many others. The fact of the matter is, racism has been and remains a persistent problem in our society that needs to be addressed, and now is the time to take action.

We must all acknowledge that the systemic oppression and mistreatment of Black and Brown individuals in the US and around the world stems from a legacy of slavery and colonialism. Racism in any form is unacceptable, and as a society, business, and individuals, we must do better.

Recent US statistics indicate COVID-19 causes substantially more morbidity and mortality in underserved, underrepresented populations, particularly the Black and Latinx populations. Sadly, this phenomenon is not new. Many other diseases, including HIV, have a disproportionate impact on these communities, a situation compounded by substandard levels of care and support. Today, the faces of HIV are disproportionately Black and Brown. I have witnessed first-hand the inequities in HIV prevention and care around the world, and in particular, the toll of HIV on young women and girls in Africa, and the Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities right here in the US.

No single organization can solve the full range of these challenges. However, together as a community we must step up and act. At Johnson & Johnson, our actions are focused in three areas that we believe are essential to drive change.

  1. Strengthening data and insights on COVID-19 health disparities;
  2. Driving health education and awareness, to accelerate the development of solutions and strategies to address health disparities; and
  3. Supporting community leaders and frontline health workers with the resources they need to improve the health and vitality of underserved communities.

As we continue to battle HIV amidst the dual public health crisis caused by COVID-19 and racial inequity, I am proud to be part of a company that stands united alongside the global community to help eliminate health disparities and make HIV history.

  • We’re supporting programs and organizations on the frontline of addressing these disparities, such as the Black AIDS Institute, MenStar, and PEPFAR’s DREAMS Partnership. We are also a long-time partner of mothers2mothers, which works to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding; by providing education and support to local mothers living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. We are incredibly inspired by these efforts to eliminate health disparities and ensure access to education, care, and treatment in underserved communities.
  • We’re working to enact a more inclusive approach to HIV research that reflects the world we live in. Together with our research partners, we are studying our investigational HIV vaccine in disproportionately affected and most at-risk populations – women, transgender individuals and men who have sex with men – as these individuals experience an increased burden of HIV transmission. We are also actively supporting community engagement efforts to help increase disease awareness and participation in clinical research.
  • Through Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health – a dedicated organization focused on ensuring equitable access to our critical public health solutions that save lives, cure patients and prevent disease – we’re working to ensure access to our innovative HIV treatments in over 100+ resource-limited countries.

We are also pressing forward with urgency to address the inequities in COVID-19 care and health outcomes in the US and globally.

  • We have joined coalition calls to congressional leaders for increased and improved COVID-19 demographic collection and dissemination, including funding for the CDC’s Surveillance for Emerging Threats to Mothers and Babies program.
  • In our Company-sponsored COVID-19 clinical trials we are leveraging a digital and community outreach plan to provide resources and opportunities to encourage participation in clinical research; reducing operational barriers and patient burden; applying lessons learned from previous efforts with underserved and underrepresented populations; and educating Black and Brown communities about the importance of diverse participation in clinical trials.
  • The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation is working with national governments and partners – like AMREF and Aga Khan University in Kenya and CCBRT in Tanzania – to engage community health workers in prevention, detection and response efforts and to ensure delivery of primary health services in vulnerable and underserved communities.

We’re far from done. With our global reach comes a great responsibility to leverage our deep scientific expertise and extensive partnerships, to foster unique, additional solutions to address racism and injustice. Alongside my 134,000 Johnson & Johnson colleagues around the world, we will never stop listening, mobilizing with urgency, and inspiring change with our partners to end the health inequities that have plagued underserved communities for far too long.

In solidarity,

Macaya Douoguih, M.D., MPH
Head, Janssen Clinical Development and Medical Affairs, Vaccines

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