300 world leaders, celebrities, scientists and activists urge Gilead to share new HIV medicine with low- and middle-income countries

300 world leaders, celebrities, scientists and activists urge Gilead to share new HIV medicine with low- and middle-income countries

Release date: 30 May 2024

  • Artists and activists including Karamo Brown, Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson, Sharon Stone, Alan Cummings, and Tom Neuwirth a.k.a. Conchita Wurst join former Presidents and Prime Ministers, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the scientist who discovered HIV, and people living with HIV to remind Gilead of the “horror and shame” of early failures to ensure poorer countries access to HIV medicines.
  • Former world leaders Festus and Barbara Mogae of Botswana, Dr Joyce Banda of Malawi; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Abdelraouf Rawabdeh of Jordan, Djoomart Otorbaev of Kyrgyzstan; Rosen Plevneliev and Petar Stoyanov of Bulgaria; Mladen Ivanic of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Ivo Josipovic, Stjepan Mesic, and Jadranka Kosor of Croatia; Jan Fisher of the Czech Republic; Eka Tkeshelashvili of Georgia; Valdis Zatlers of Latvia; Marie-Louise Coleiro and Joseph Muscat of Malta; Petru Lucinschi, Dumitru Bragish and Chiril Gaburici of Moldova; Filip Vujanovic, Igor Luksic, and Milica Pejanovic of Montenegro; Petre Roman and Ana Birchall of Romania; Mirko Cvetkovic of Serbia; Stefan Löfven of Sweden; and Hikmet Cetin of Turkey urge Gilead to change course
  • Princess Stephanie of Monaco; First Ladies Monica Chakwera of Malawi, Sustjie Mbumba of Namibia, and Isaura Nyusi of Mozambique; and former First Lady of Namibia Monica Geingos join the call.

The pharmaceutical giant Gilead is under pressure from a coalition of people living with HIV and leaders in the global AIDS response, including former Presidents and Prime Ministers, famed activists, celebrities, and the scientist who first discovered HIV. They are calling for the company to make a new lifesaving HIV medicine available to people in low-and-middle income countries at the same time as people in rich nations.

Gilead’s new medicine Lenacapavir requires only two injections per year to effectively treat HIV. It is already approved in the US and Europe for treatment of people experiencing drug resistance, and is likely to soon be available as long-acting product to prevent HIV. Lenacapavir would be “a real game-changer”, particularly for people facing stigma and discrimination in low- and middle-income countries, including LGBTQ+ people, sex workers and people who inject drugs, as they would only have to visit their prevention facilities twice a year to get their shot.

If and when Lenacapavir becomes available to prevent HIV it could also be lifesaving for young women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa, who are most affected by HIV, with 3,100 young women and girls becoming infected with HIV every week in 2022. However, Gilead has not put in place any of the elements to ensure that marginalized communities or young women and girls in low and middle-income countries can access the new medicine, the public figures warn.

In a letter to Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day (who made $22.6 million last year) the public figures point to the “horror and shame” of the early years of the AIDS pandemic, when “it took ten years and 12 million lives were lost before generic versions became available worldwide.”

They call on Gilead to license generic versions of the medicine through the Unitaid-backed Medicines Patent Pool to ensure that affordable treatments are available to people in low and middle-income countries. “You can shape history,” they say, as “by sharing the technology with the whole of the Global South, you will help save lives, prevent HIV infections, and advance the end of the world’s deadliest pandemic.”

Gilead has previously licensed generics for other HIV medicines in some low-income countries, but leaders and experts want Gilead to go further with Lenacapavir by working with the Medicines Patent Pool and enabling access for middle income countries too, where the majority of the world’s poor live.

High profile artists and activists including Shabana Azmi, Karamo Brown, David Carlyle, Alan Cumming, Nandita Das, Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson, Sharon Stone, Tom Neuwirth a.k.a. Conchita Wurst, and Arnaud Valois have joined with political figures including Kerry Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Human Rights Centre; famed economists Mariana Mazzucato and Jayati Ghosh; and former leaders of the World Bank, the UN General Assembly, and COP21.

Dozens of former world leaders have signed, including Festus and Barbara Mogae, President and First Lady of Botswana; Dr Joyce Banda, President of Malawi; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Jewel Howard Taylor, President and Vice President of Liberia; Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand and UNDP Administrator; Abdelraouf Rawabdeh, Prime Minister of Jordan; Djoomart Otorbaev, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan; and Hikmet Cetin former Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey (1991-1994); alongside the serving First Ladies Monica Chakwera of Malawi, Sustjie Mbumba of Namibia, and Isaura Nyusi of Mozambique; former First Lady of Namibia Monica Geingos; and Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Founder of Fight AIDS Monaco.

They join European former heads of state and government including; Bulgarian Presidents Rosen Plevneliev and Petar Stoyanov; President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mladen Ivanic; Croatian Presidents Ivo Josipovic and Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor; Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Jan Fisher; Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia Eka Tkeshelashvili; President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers; Maltese President Marie-Louise Coleiro and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat; Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and Prime Ministers Dumitru Bragish and Chiril Gaburici; Montenegro’s President Filip Vujanovic, Prime Minister Igor Luksic, and Minister of Defence Milica Pejanovic; Romanian Prime Minister Petre Roman and Deputy Prime Minister Ana Birchall; Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic; and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

Alongside them are some of the most respected figures in the global response to HIV. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was awarded a Nobel prize for her work identifying HIV; Michel Kazatchkine led The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Hakima Himmich founded the Association for the Fight Against AIDS. They stand alongside leaders of organisations including the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), the UK National AIDS Trust, the Global Network of People Living with HIV, and leading academics studying the response to HIV.

They stand with noted activists in the fight for access to HIV medicines from the 1990s through today, including Zackie Achmat and Anele Yawa, the co-founder and General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign; David France and Howard Gertler, Director and Producer of award-winning AIDS documentary How to Survive a Plague; Gregg Gonsalves, Yale epidemiology professor and key figure in ACT-UP; and the leaders of Prep4All, Just Treatment, Oxfam America, Health Justice Initiative and STOPAIDS.

H.E. Festus Mogae, Former President of the Republic of Botswana (1998-2008) said:

“When I came to office, it would have been unthinkable to say that we could end the AIDS pandemic in our lifetimes. That goal is now within reach, but it will take courageous leadership from companies like Gilead. They have a chance to turn a page on the pharmaceutical industry’s deadly neglect of Africans living with HIV. At this historic moment, I ask that Gilead act in the spirit of solidarity and human cooperation, and do what is necessary to help bring this awful pandemic to an end.”

Her Excellency Madam Chakwera, The First Lady of the Republic of Malawi said:

“New long-acting HIV treatments are a source of hope, but there is no point in developing new medicines if they cannot reach the people whose lives they could save. Lenacapavir could be the answer for thousands of African women, men, girls, and boys living with HIV and all those who cannot safely access regular treatment without fear of violence or discrimination. As Gilead executives consider our request, they should know that the lives of many of these people hang in the balance.”

Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Centre, said:

“The AIDS pandemic has always been a human rights crisis – and when people who could benefit are denied access to a lifesaving medicine, that is a denial of their right to health. In an ‘age of medical misinformation’ when conspiracy theories run rife, Gilead has a chance to combat Big Pharma’s reputation for deadly profiteering, uphold its human rights obligations, and ensure that Lenacapavir achieves its full potential as a highly effective HIV medicine.”

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Nobel laureate 2008 in Physiology or Medicine, said:

“It now seems that inequality, not science, is the greatest barrier to fighting AIDS. On behalf of those of us who have dedicated our lives to this work, whose research has been foundational for the development of this medicine, I implore Gilead to erase much of that inequality and make a monumental step towards ending the AIDS pandemic.”

Anele Yawa, General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, said:

“Millions of lives were lost in Africa while pharmaceutical companies sold HIV treatments only to the rich. The message then was clear: to Big Pharma, our lives did not matter. Gilead needs to decide if that has changed. Does the company now value the lives of people in the Global South as much as those in the wealthy countries? Or will we continue to be locked out of the huge scientific strides made in the fight against AIDS?”

Joyce Ouma from Kenya, who has been living with HIV for almost ten years since she was 17, said:

“Gilead have the opportunity to not only significantly reduce new HIV transmissions and the stigma around HIV, but also address the injustice of young people in lower-income countries like myself being put at the back of the queue for access to medicines. Without licensing Lenacapivir to low- and middle-income countries, Gilead will be prolonging this injustice and the end of AIDS.”

Anton Basenko, Advisor: Communities, Rights and Gender, Alliance for Public Health, Ukraine, said:

“I have lived with HIV since the age of 23. I contracted HIV when I was using drugs and living on the streets. I know what it means to wait for life-saving treatment and to lose people while waiting. Now I fight stigma and discrimination, which is still present in parts of Ukraine, through my role as a community leader and activist. Lenacapavir is potentially a game changing drug which could especially benefit marginalised people facing stigma, discrimination and criminalisation, like LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, and people who use drugs. Please make this drug available to everyone Gilead so we can end the AIDS pandemic.”

The letter was organised by the People’s Medicine Alliance, a global coalition of civil society organisations, experts, and public figures which previously campaigned as the People’s Vaccine Alliance. The Alliance, formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed its name to reflect its broader role in fighting for access to medicines across diseases.


Notes for editors

The full letter and list of signatories is available here: https://bit.ly/3UWZhkO

Media contact
Joe Karp-Sawey
Email: [email protected]
WhatsApp: +447428985985