Through Collaboration, Education, and Innovation, Gilead Helps Safeguard Public Health

One of the key lessons of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for both governments and societies is the importance of strengthening and promoting public health systems and initiatives to eradicate infectious diseases and safeguard populations. Taiwan, whose pandemic management has arguably been among the best in the world, has also made significant strides in fighting illnesses that have long plagued the island’s healthcare system and citizens. Among its achievements are a significant reduction in the prevalence of hepatitis B through newborn vaccination. Taiwan has also pledged to eliminate hepatitis C (HCV) in Taiwan by 2025, five years in advance of the United Nations’ 2030 target.

Critical to these efforts is the input, assistance, and continuous innovation of the healthcare industry. In particular, multinational firms such as Gilead, a global research-based biopharmaceutical company with 35 years of experience developing products that help combat infectious diseases around the world, can provide their collective knowledge and expertise to the Taiwan government through collaborations and partnerships tackling different public health challenges.

One such area, says Gilead Taiwan General Manager Pongo Peng, is Taiwan’s ambitious HCV elimination goals. He emphasizes the progress Taiwan has made in meeting those objectives, including providing National Health Insurance coverage for HCV direct-acting antivirals (DAA) for chronic HCV infections. In addition, Taiwan’s health authorities have expanded HCV screening and linkage to care, including expanding eligibility for free HBV & HCV screening and granting prescription rights to treatment providers other than hepatologists.

In 2018, Gilead Taiwan donated HCV DAA treatment to the Ministry of Health and Welfare to be distributed to patients in aboriginal communities, with the intention of supporting the government’s program of addressing health inequities and eliminating HCV.

Nevertheless, Peng points to Taiwan’s dire situation in terms of liver cancer, the fifth most prevalent cancer in Taiwan and the one with the second-highest mortality rate. Given that one of the leading risk factors for liver cancer is chronic infection with HBV, it is imperative that Taiwan accelerate its efforts to fight HBV, developing a national HBV management policy, and eventually eliminate of the disease in Taiwan.

Gilead has striven to assist Taiwan in those efforts through education and other programs. Its Asia Pacific ALL4LIVER Grant, launched in 2020 with an initial focus on hepatitis B, has provided more than US$1 million in grant funding to support initiatives led by community-based organizations across Asia. In Taiwan, Peng says, two projects stood out and received funding through the grant.

Another pressing public health challenge in Taiwan is the continuous spread of HIV, a disease for which Gilead is uniquely suited to lend their assistance.

“Taiwan is one of the only advanced countries to achieve and surpass the 90-90-90 UNAIDS goal,” Peng says, referring to the global body’s three HIV targets (by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV would know their status, 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV would receive sustained antiretroviral treatments, and 90% of all those receiving those treatments would achieve viral suppression). In addition, he notes, “Taiwan was the first place in Asia to provide reimbursement for HIV treatments, and it subsidizes pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV transmission.”

Despite this progress, Peng concedes, the stigma associated with being diagnosed HIV positive persists in Taiwan. “The scientific data until this point has shown that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U),” he says. “This is a very important concept that the public be made aware of in order for the stigma to begin being lifted.” Another key issue for HIV patient care is continuing to improve screening and linkage to care.

Gilead’s Asia Rainbow Grant for HIV is one channel through which the company is seeking to resolve these issues. Since its launch in 2018, the grant has awarded around US$4.5 million to organizations across the Asia Pacific. In Taiwan, it has been able to reach through education or direct services more than 1.3 million people, with around 30 projects started by Taiwan community-based organizations.

The company has also provided consistent support to Taiwan in its fight against COVID-19, working diligently with the government to accelerate access to treatments and stabilize their supply in times of fluctuation. These actions demonstrate Gilead’s dedication to putting patients first.

Beyond its external efforts, Peng highlights the welcoming work culture Gilead has fostered in its operations around the world through its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. “It is essential that we maintain a work environment in which we listen to our employees, encourage them to speak up about their concerns and share their opinions,” he says. “We thrive on a diversity of backgrounds and ideas.”

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