Along with its worldwide partners, GSK is using science and innovation to help prevent and treat diseases that affect families around the globe
Global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) is one of the few companies in the world investing significant resources into the research and development of treatments and vaccines for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, in an effort to reduce the devastating impact these illnesses have worldwide.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have made it a clear objective to end the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics by 2030.
Achieving this ambitious goal will require the continued work by companies like GSK and its collaborators – but they are up for the challenge.
“GSK, together with our global partners, has been working for decades to help stop the spread and limit the impact these diseases have on children and families worldwide,” says Rogerio Ribeiro, senior vice-president of the global health unit at GlaxoSmithKline UK Ltd. “We plan to continue and expand this scientific work to help find solutions to these global healthcare challenges, which currently strain healthcare systems around the world. “
Some of the world’s biggest killers are on the attack
Malaria, tuberculosis and HIV affect millions of children and young people across the developing world.
At GSK, we use our science to fight these infectious diseases through development of vaccines and medicines.
And with our partners, we stand committed to ensuring our science makes a difference for families who need it most.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and, if left untreated, can lead to AIDS – a disease that is almost always fatal. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, most notably from sexual contact, but mothers can also transmit the disease during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. While there is no vaccine for prevention of HIV, antiretroviral drugs are available. But these drugs can be expensive, particularly in the developing world. ViiV Healthcare, a joint venture owned by GSK and Pfizer, has an agreement to produce its antiretroviral medications through generic producers in low and middle-income countries.
In 2017, there were an estimated 36.9 million people living with HIV worldwide, and 1.8 million of those were children under the age of 15, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In that same year, around 940,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses, down from 1.9 million in 2004.
According to HIV.gov, a US federal HIV/AIDS resource, Fifty-nine per cent of people living with HIV around the world were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2017, an increase of 2.3 million since 2016 and up from eight million in 2010.
An estimated 1.8 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2017, which is about 5,000 new infections a day. This includes 180,000 children under the age of 15. Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and were infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
Malaria remains one of the world’s most deadly diseases for children, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. The WHO reports the majority of these deaths occur in Africa, killing more than 250,000 children annually and 435,000 people worldwide. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of malaria’s life-threatening complications.
For the past 30 years, GSK has been working to help prevent the spread of malaria through its mosquito-netting distribution program and the development of medications to treat the disease.
In partnership with GSK, Amref Health Africa, an organization that advocates for universal health care in Africa, has trained more than 10,000 community health workers in 17 countries throughout eastern and southern Africa. The program has had an impact on more than four million people in these regions.
“The strength of our partnership with Amref Health Africa is based on our shared values of supporting sustainable change, enhancing health-care systems, and improving accessibility for all,” says Rogerio Ribeiro, senior vice-president of the global health unit at GlaxoSmithKline UK Ltd. “Together, we understand the importance of front-line health workers, education, and the fundamental notion that everyone should have access to quality health care all over the world.”
Tuberculosis, known commonly as TB, is one of the top ten causes of deaths worldwide, according to the WHO. In 2017, there were 10 million reported cases of TB, with 1.6 million of those cases resulting in death, including 230,000 children. TB is also a leading killer of those who are HIV-positive.
The rate of cases is falling at a rate of 2 per cent per year, the WHO says, but this needs to more than double to reach between 4-5 per cent annually if the agency hopes to reach its ambitious target of reducing TB deaths by 95 per cent by 2035.
Through its on-going work with scientific and non-governmental organizations, GSK is helping to achieve this goal by trialing a vaccine for potential use in adults and researching possible new treatment options for TB.
GSK is also a founding member of the TB Drug Accelerator, a discovery consortium of several pharmaceutical companies and other research institutions around the world aimed at speeding up the discovery and development of novel compounds against the infectious disease through collaboration.
Save the Children Partnership
To tackle some of the root causes of disease and ill health in developing countries, such as lack of basic knowledge and inadequate health services, GSK partners with NGOs to support health and educational programs that are innovative, sustainable and produce tangible results.
“We have an innovative ten-year partnership with Save the Children to help save one million children’s lives,” Riberio says. “We are combining GSK’s scientific and manufacturing expertise with Save the Children’s on-the-ground experience to find new ways to help bring down the number of children dying from preventable and treatable diseases.”
In the next five years, by focusing on running long-term health programs, strengthening countries’ healthcare systems, finding new treatments and advocating for global change, GSK hopes to help build a world where no child under the age of five dies from preventable causes.
As part of GSK’s global support for Save the Children, the company has been working with its Canada chapter since 2016 to provide funding for an on-going project to support emergency preparedness for First Nations children and their families in Canada who are at risk due to natural disasters.
Piloted in two communities in 2013, continued funding from GSK has allowed the program to expand into other Indigenous communities across the country. The pharmaceutical company’s employees have taken a hands-on approach to helping with this program, including the annual backpack event, as part of the company’s Orange United Week in June. Assembled by GSK employees and their families, these packs contain supplies that support the health and wellbeing of children, such as hygiene kits, an ID bracelet, a flashlight and teddy bear, intended to provide comfort for children in the event of an emergency.
To date, over 4,600 children have been supported by the program with more than 2,200 backpacks being delivered to communities.
“Together, with our partner GSK and their generous support, we are able to come closer to our objective of reaching more First Nations children and families in an effort to help them prepare for emergencies,” says Bill Chambers, CEO of Save the Children Canada. “It’s important to us to support communities both at home in Canada and abroad.”
It is estimated that in 2017, more than five million children around the world died each year before their fifth birthdays owing to preventable causes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and not just in developing countries.
“Putting an end to diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis worldwide takes a collaborative approach,” says Ribeiro. “By sharing information, scientific expertise and fostering partnerships with other scientific organizations and with NGO’s, like Save the Children, we can work to not only help eradicate diseases, but give on-the-ground support when epidemics and natural disasters strike.”
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