Friday, Dec 1, 2023

The HIV Community is Telling Us How We Can Help End the Epidemic – Let’s Listen AND Speak Up

Kimberly Smith, MD, MPHChief Scientific Officer, Senior Vice President and Head of Research & Development, ViiV Healthcare


I remember the early days of the HIV epidemic like they were yesterday. I had just started medical school and there was an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty related to a disease that wasn’t understood. It felt like HIV came out of nowhere, striking down people in the prime of their lives and disproportionately impacting those who were already marginalized. 

I have never forgotten what I call those “bad old days.” I will also never forget the courage and strength of the communities impacted by HIV. In the face of the unknown, they banded together to support each other, protest, and change the momentum, fighting for attention, research and treatments to turn the tide against the epidemic.

Today, on World AIDS Day 2023, we stand at an equally important moment in time. We look back on the more than 85 million people who have been diagnosed worldwide since the epidemic began, while also looking ahead to the very real promise of ending the epidemic altogether. 

This World AIDS Day, we believe that the world can end HIV and AIDS, with those same communities leading the way.

At HLTH 2023 I joined the panel, “Healthcare, Policy and Advocacy Walk into a Bar,” for a conversation about health equity and the importance of centering the voices of those advocates. One of the resounding insights from that conversation is that if we’re going to let community lead, we need to keep listening to the community.

At ViiV Healthcare, the only company 100% focused on HIV, we’ve made that goal an integral part of our mission. We work together with the HIV community to create innovative new medicines for treatment and prevention, guided by what they tell us is most important to their needs. Our progress has been driven and supported by the demands of the community, resulting in treatments that suppress HIV and regimens that prevent it. We also know, from listening to the people in the communities we serve, that one of the biggest barriers to ending the HIV epidemic is stigma. 

More than 80% of people living with HIV say they have experienced some form of stigma in the last year. Stigma not only affects mental, physical, and emotional health, it prevents people from seeking care and getting on treatment, which allows the epidemic to persist.

Let’s join with the community, and work to eliminate all stigma related to HIV, sex, and sexuality, to focus on prevention and wellness. We can also do more than listen – we can all speak up, normalize the conversation about HIV, change the narrative, break the stigma, and be part of the solution, with community leading the way.

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