Gilead, Morehouse track health inequities in communities of color using COVID-19 data

Gilead Sciences is donating an initial $1 million to launch an initiative with the Morehouse School of Medicine to surface demographic disparities in health. Sparked by the exacerbation of health inequity across races and ethnic minority groups during the COVID-19 pandemic, the two groups plan to gather data to detail the problems.

The tool-to-be will use COVID-19 data to determine and define geographic areas impacted during the pandemic, but with the larger goal of discovering and mapping overall health inequities. Gilead and Morehouse plan to use the information to encourage the creation of evidence-based public policy changes.

RELATED: HIV-focused Gilead launches fund, pledges $2M to help transgender people

“We sometimes think of these persistent disparities as intractable, and they’re not. We just have to have the will to build the systems, structures and trusted relationships to make the changes we need to make a difference and promote health equity, ” said Douglas Brooks, Gilead executive director for community engagement and the former lead adviser on domestic HIV/AIDS to President Barack Obama.

Gilead hopes to create a tool similar to its AIDSVu and HepVu data platforms, developed in partnership with Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. As Brooks noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health groups now use the open view and detailed local HIV data to inform policy and public health decision making.

For the new health inequity platform, Gilead specifically sought to partner with a historically Black university. It chose Morehouse’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute, which was founded in 2006 by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher to promote public policy change to address health disparities.

“As we have seen, COVID-19 is magnifying inequities that predate the pandemic. Black Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans still contend with neighborhoods that are largely devoid of health-sustaining and health-protective resources, and they still contend with the political determinants or drivers that created, perpetuated and exacerbated these health inequities," Daniel Dawes, the director at the institute who will be leading the effort, said in a press release.

“Our collective effort intends to create systemic policy change and realize more equitable outcomes for all population groups,” he added.

RELATED: Gilead's long-awaited remdesivir price is $3,120, in line with watchdog estimates

The partnership includes the creation of the Black Health Equity Alliance, which will include thought leaders, community representatives, researchers and policymakers as well as Gilead, Brooks said. He expects the data map to be up and running and publicly available in the fourth quarter.

Gilead has seen ups and downs through its involvement in the COVID-19 pandemic. While its treatment remdesivir was widely welcomed, Gilead’s pricing strategy faced criticism, as did its decision to sign an almost exclusive deal with the U.S. for the drug’s distribution.