December 10th, 2013

Honoring the Memory of Nelson Mandela

by Will Stephens, Vice President of Global Access and Partnerships at Janssen, Global Services, LLC.

Johnson & Johnson honors the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. One of our employees reflects on Mr. Mandela’s commitment to raising HIV awareness and treatment in South Africa.


Will Stephens meeting with Nelson Mandela in 2003

There are certain places that will remind you of important events in your life: for me, South Africa is linked to a chance meeting that will be etched in my memory forever: a meeting with Nelson Mandela. As fate would have it, in the week of his memorial service and funeral I am in South Africa with the Janssen global HIV access team.  As we talked about the state of HIV and our HIV drug access program following World AIDS Day and prepared for exciting new initiatives, it was impossible not to reflect on Nelson Mandela’s legacy and relevance to HIV.

Over the past fifteen years, I have had the privilege of working with our colleagues on behalf of Johnson & Johnson and Janssen in Sub-Saharan and South Africa. Throughout the varied challenges we have faced as industry, my time in South Africa has been a true education in the social, political and cultural evolution of the country over the past two decades. Part of my role was to find new opportunities to educate leaders and laymen alike about the good work our Company (and our industry) was undertaking in South Africa and to explore openings to come together in partnership for the betterment of all South Africans. One such partnership, Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB), supported by Johnson & Johnson Corporate Contributions, led to a chance meeting with the then recently retired President Mandela at his home in Gauteng.  As a member of the MESAB board, our mission was to thank Madiba for lending his presence and commitment to education in South Africa to our cause, which over a 10-year period educated hundreds of black South African Physicians. What was most memorable about meeting Mandela – who by 2003 was an international icon – was his humanity.  He was generally more interested in people than causes.  He wanted to identify everyone by their first name, asked about family, and was accessible and easy-going about posing for an infinite variety of personal pictures.  Mandela also seemed to recognize the innate value and affect people could have when they came together. Harnessing the power partnerships was central to Mandela’s commitment to providing for the basic needs of the South African people – education, housing, jobs, electricity, and health care — which are essential for raising people out of extreme poverty and building the foundation of a sustainable and more equitable society.

The news of Mandela’s passing came the day of my team’s discussion about the Company’s Credo Commitment.  A session filled with lively debate, but cementing our belief that the principles outlined in the Credo continue to provide us with a moral compass transparent for all to see and deliver on.  Our global HIV access team lives these values every day as we work towards realizing our vision to improve and save more lives by addressing unmet medical needs in resource-limited settings.  Our mission is to ensure that people who need our HIV medicines have access to them, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay.  We do this because we believe we are doing the right thing and answering Dr. Paul Janssen’s call that patients are waiting.

As we remember the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela this week we should also remember his role in inspiring the world to “do the right thing” for HIV over a decade ago when he said:  “The more we lack the courage and the will to act, the more we condemn to death our brothers and sisters, our children and our grandchildren. When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of a global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?” 1

1 Nelson Mandela’s opening plenary of the Second International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment (July 14, 2003).

Will Stephens is Vice President of Global Access and Partnerships at Janssen, Global Services, LLC.

2 Responses to “Honoring the Memory of Nelson Mandela”

  1. Charles Nau says

    Those of us who were involved in the earliest days of the development of J&J’s policy on pricing in the face of the AIDS crisis know that no one was more committed than Will Stephens to insuring that access to our future HIV medicines would be assured to all in need, irrespective of financial resources.

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