Morehouse School of Medicine, Gilead target HIV health disparities

The collaboration looks to address the connected effects of the HIV epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic.

The Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine is entering a $4.5 million partnership with Gilead Sciences and Xavier University in New Orleans to study and address the structural barriers to HIV testing, care and treatment faced by Black communities.

Gilead, a research-based biopharmaceutical company, announced the three-year collaboration on Monday.

The goal is to help improve health outcomes for Black Americans in Atlanta, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., by supporting existing work on racial health disparities by the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Xavier’s Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education.

“They [MSM] are a longstanding and important institution that has been a stalwart in the South for educating African Americans. Their Satcher Health Leadership Institute’s entire programming is about addressing health inequities,” said Rashad Burgess, vice president of Advancing Health and Black Equity at Gilead. “I think it is a perfect fit.”

Gilead, based in Foster, Calif., researches and develops antiviral medications used to treat HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, and other viral illnesses. The company cited longstanding barriers to health equity that highlighted the higher rates of HIV and COVID-19 infections in Black Americans as well as worse outcomes for both diseases.

Many healthcare services were interrupted during the pandemic, and Gilead said the partnership will seek to understand how Black communities were affected in testing, treatment and care.

“Though the COVID-19 pandemic was a setback to the American healthcare system overall, we must bring to the forefront disproportionately impacted communities who were already historically marginalized prior to the pandemic, including people living with HIV,” said Daniel E. Dawes. Dawes, executive director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, is the author of “The Political Determinants of Health.”

He said the collaboration among Gilead, MSM and Xavier will “ensure these communities are not an afterthought.”

Gilead’s Burgess said his company choose Atlanta, Baton Rouge and New Orleans for the collaboration because of the disproportionate effect the coronavirus and HIV has had within Black communities.

“One of the things that we saw during COVID is decreased HIV screenings, decreased diagnoses, as well as decreased access and utilization of HIV care,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are making an investment that helps to address that.”

Through the partnership, both institutions will also provide training on culturally competent HIV care and engage with experienced doctors within the Black community in the three cities.

Gilead’s recent report, “HIV in the Time of COVID-19: Leaving No-One Behind to Truly End the HIV Epidemic”, details the challenges individuals face when trying to access equitable healthcare services. Gilead also has made a 10-year, $100 million commitment to address HIV inequities in the South.

“We are so excited about this partnership. This is a display of our commitment to Black communities and communities that are disproportionately impacted by HIV, especially communities in the South,” said Burgess.

“We look forward to having a transformative impact with this grant and partnership.”

Gilead said in a statement that the partnership will seek to increase access and utilization of culturally competent healthcare to Black people affected by the HIV epidemic. It will also study the “disruption of the healthcare delivery system by COVID-19 and realigning HIV services in the current climate.”

Other objectives include training focused on culturally competent HIV care and engaging early with clinicians practicing in the three cities’ Black communities.

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