Despite advances, HIV stigma and misunderstanding remain, GSK and ViiV study shows

GSK’s ViiV Healthcare is committed not only to treating HIV the disease, but also is looking to tackle the prejudices and misconceptions that accompany it. Forty-plus years from the start of the epidemic, and despite the success in managing the disease, those issues remain a significant part of the challenge.

In recognition of World AIDS Day and as part of ViiV’s “HIV in View” campaign, the pharma released the results of a new international survey conducted by The Harris Poll. The survey of 5,047 adults across four countries—Australia, Portugal, the U.K. and the U.S.—revealed that even with all the progress that has been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, including the U=U concept, (Undetectable = Untransmittable), negative and inaccurate impressions are still prevalent among the general public.

“We were shocked,” said Stephen Rea, ViiV’s head of external affairs and communications. “Some of the facts really smack you in the face, almost 90% of people living with HIV still believe that there are negative connotations and perceptions towards them.” He continued, ”In conversations with family and friends, they’re struck by the level of ignorance around basic facts—a third of people still believe that you can contract the HIV virus through kissing. It just made us even more motivated to extend the campaign and really try and ensure that we hit that head on.”

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The problem is these prejudices have real-world consequences: There is abundant research showing that this stigma and fear of negative reactions from friends and family keeps people who may have be at risk of HIV from getting tested or seeking treatment.

The Black and Hispanic communities of gay and bisexual men have suffered the most when it comes to not getting treatment and care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the rate of new infections among those groups have stayed the same over the past decade, despite the number falling among their white counterparts.

In the U.S., ViiV, which is majority-owned by GSK with Pfizer and Shionogi as shareholders, is very focused on reaching these groups with the “Being Seen” podcast aimed at Black gay and queer men (and now women) and a Spanish-language ad for Dovato.

Rea says to really reach those who may not be actively seeking this information on their own, it’s all about partnering with trusted community groups and organizations. All of the efforts work together to help tackle the stigma and hopefully get people into treatment.

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“Our objective is by portraying people living with HIV in a more positive light, and trying to demystify some of these awful prejudices and stigmatizing factors, which can be terrifying to people, is that it will empower people to be more curious and ask questions about their own lives, and have that discussion with families and friends in a way that makes them feel protected and safe,” he said.

Earlier in December, the FDA approved GSK and ViiV’s Apretude, or cabotegravir as the first long-acting injected PrEP option, which can help prevent HIV. Last January, Cabenuva was also approved as an HIV treatment, and GSK estimates the cabotegravir franchise could reach over 2 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in sales in 2026.

In a bid to truly work toward equality, when running Apretude’s U.S. phase 3 trial, ViiV stipulated that 50% of those involved be Black. The goal was met, which ViiV said shows that this population is willing to take PrEP, but it’s about getting the information and the drug available to them.

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