“We have chosen to work with the community to fight the stigma of being HIV positive in a number of ways.”
Alex Kalomparis came from the United Kingdom to the Tel Aviv Pride parade to be a part of what he said the pharmaceutical company he works for has always understood: “We cannot just focus on the medical side. You can have a perfect pill, but if someone is not tested because of the stigma he knows he would be facing, he won’t get the pill. We have chosen to work with the community to fight the stigma of being HIV positive in a number of ways.”
Kalomparis is a vice president for Gilead Sciences, a pharmaceutical company with its headquarter in the UK and branch offices all around the world. Gilead has spent the last nearly three decades focused on developing products that offer enhanced modes of delivery, more convenient treatment regimes, improved resistance profiles, reduced side effects and greater efficacy for patients with HIV and Hepatitis C.
HIV is the leading cause of AIDS, a disease in which there is a severe loss of the body’s cellular immunity, greatly lowering the resistance to infection and malignancy.
According to the latest studies, approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, but about 240,000 do not know they are infected. In Israel, in 2010, the number of people infected with AIDS totaled 430, while 456 additional HIV-positive cases were diagnosed in 2011.
Specifically, Kalomparis is vice president of public affairs for what the company calls the EMEA region, which includes Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. In his role, he directs the strategy, planning and implementation of all aspects of external and internal communications for the company.
On Thursday, the day before the Tel Aviv Pride parade, Kalomparis took part in several Pride events, including speaking at a LGBT Tech executive summit in Tel Aviv. He said as excited as he was about spreading the message about what Gilead is doing, he also used the opportunity to listen.
“For me, it is about connecting and finding out what challenges and opportunities exist being an LGBT person in the Tel Aviv community,” he said. “It is about listening and learning.”
On Friday, Kalomparis joined his company on a float it sponsored with a local LGBT center, where he saw for the first time and firsthand what inclusiveness looks like in Tel Aviv.
“I am sure lots of young LGBT Israeli men and women find in Tel Aviv a safe hub and are thankful to have this urban center in the Middle East, where not every country has that open-minded mindset,” Kalomparis said. “The LGBT community thrives in Tel Aviv and I just want to say thank you.”
“You have no idea how important it is when you are growing up when you find a place that you can be yourself and find like-minded people that allow you to flourish as a human being,” he continued. “I am sure Tel Aviv does that for a lot of LGBT people.”
THIS IS Kalomparis’s first visit, but the third time that Gilead has sponsored a float. The theme of this year’s float was “this is what community looks like,” and featured the diverse kinds of people who can be LGBT.
Kalomparis also came to share some exciting news: He said the company is in the early stages of research on an actual cure for HIV.
“Whether it will be successful or not, it is too early to know, but the fact that I can even say we are working on a cure program is exciting and anyone somehow touched by HIV – whether they are positive themselves or have a friend of family member who is positive – the idea that one day we could have a cure is something that should fill them with optimism,” he said.
Additionally, Kalomparis said, the company is focused on developing a drug for HIV that could be administered monthly instead of daily, as many drug regimes are.
“With long-acting medicine, you could have an injection once a month or every two months and then that is it until the next injection,” Kalomparis said. “We try to a lot in this field from an R&D standpoint.”
For Kalomparis such innovations are personally relevant. A gay man himself and in his 40s, he said he is of the generation where he had close friends diagnosed with HIV.
Gilead’s Israel office has supported several similar efforts, as well.
Earlier this summer, it sponsored a program for 150 older members of the LGBT community that allowed them to meet and talk about common issues. The company also provided a grant for a meeting dedicated to harm reduction of “party drug” use. The discussion at that June event was around the use of illicit drugs and “what to do if something goes wrong with you or your friend at a party,” a local spokesperson for Gilead said.
Around the world, Gilead also strives to make a difference. For example, the company agreed to donate a once-a-day pill that protects users against HIV to cover as many as 200,000 people for 11 years. The donation is part of President Donald Trump’s initiative to reduce HIV transmission in the United States by 90% by 2030.
In addition, the company has invested in developing a generic licensing program so that its drugs can be available in second- and third-world countries with populations which would otherwise not be able to afford or have access to them. Kalomparis said that thanks to the program, “some 12 million people with HIV are on our drugs, which means they can thrive.”
“There are so many challenges out there for the LGBT community,” Kalomparis said. “For me, dealing with those challenges lies in partnering.” And he said he was proud to be in Israel to “contribute to the fight.”
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