UNAIDS estimates that more than 37 million adults and 2 million children are infected with HIV worldwide. The AIDS epidemic has hit the hardest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 75 percent of the women ages 15 to 24 are infected.
Closer to home, 40,000 people per year in the U.S. are infected, more than half of whom are African-American women. The latter group by itself accounts for 72 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in women.
In the face of these overwhelming statistics, what can be done? Some corporations are making a difference with contributions to charities supporting the cause and helping in other ways.
For example, Roche, a pharmaceutical company that developed the HIV protease inhibitors Invirase and Viracept, has not filed any patents for its medicines – including those for HIV/AIDS – in the least-developed nations and sub-Saharan Africa. This means that these countries, which are devastated by the epidemic, can manufacture and sell cheap, generic versions of the drugs without waiting for the patents to expire.
The company also is dedicated to increasing awareness of the illnesses.
“Roche is committed to driving social responsibility programs that increase awareness and combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the local and international level,” said George Abercrombie, president and CEO, Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., the U.S. pharmaceuticals headquarters of Roche.
Beyond this, Roche and its employees are working more directly to address the problem through the company’s annual Global Employee AIDS Walk in observance of World AIDS Day.
Roche employees have been participating in the walk for more than two years. In December 2005, more than 11,000 employees from 85 affiliates in 42 countries walked to raise funds for AIDS organizations. The money raised through their pledges was matched by the company.
Some of the funds are distributed to local HIV/AIDS organizations. In New Jersey, for example, funds will go to the NJ AIDS Partnership. The rest goes to children in Malawi, Africa, who have been orphaned by AIDS. The money goes to buy everything from food and clean water to shelter, books and sewing machines.
HIV is spread by sexual contact with an infected person, by sharing needles or syringes with someone who is infected or – less commonly – through transfusions of infected blood. Babies of HIV-infected women may become infected before or during birth or through breast feeding.