Feature story

Influential leaders champion the role of the private sector in challenging HIV and global health threats

15 May 2012

L to R: United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby, Anglo American's chief medical officer Brian Brink, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and President of GBCHealth John Tedstrom.
Credit: GBCHealth

Taking stock of the successes, challenges and future of the global AIDS response after three decades was at the core of the Global Business Coalition annual conference on Health (GBCHealth) held from 14-15 May in New York.

Under the theme of “Defining forward: Business, health and the road ahead” the conference brought together corporate executives, government leaders, policy makers, multilateral organizations, civil society and the media to discuss the most serious global health issues of today.

Headline speakers included Michelle Bachelet of UN Women, Barbara Bush of Global Health Corps, Deepak Chopra, Muhtar Kent of The Coca-Cola Company, Madam Bongi Ngema-Zuma, South Africa’s First Lady and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. 

Considerable progress made

AIDS@30 was the first, tone-setting session in the GBCHealth conference, where the UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé shared a platform with Anglo American's chief medical officer Brian Brink, the United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby and President of GBCHealth John Tedstrom. Mr Sidibé highlighted the considerable progress that has been made in the international AIDS response. He emphasized the fact that almost 60 countries—34 in sub-Saharan Africa—have stabilized or reduced the number of new HIV infections. This was attributed in part to extensive collaboration between a range of partners.

“Local governments are taking greater responsibility for their epidemics. But HIV is a shared responsibility that involves governments, donors, civil society and the private sector."

Mr Brink agreed that the private sector has a key role to play in ensuring the success in the response to AIDS and described Anglo American’s efforts to implement workplace policies to keep its workforce and their families healthy.

“Anglo American has demonstrated that investing in HIV prevention, treatment and care has measurable and positive impact on the bottom line,” said Mr Brink. “By investing in your employees, you reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and contribute to the wellbeing of the company."

The debate was wide-ranging and touched on a number of issues, including how the epidemic has evolved; the necessary and sufficient conditions for a truly sustainable response and the prospects for AIDS funding in an uncertain economic climate.

HIV should not be seen as a disease but an opportunity and entry point to address critical issues in society including human rights and gender equality

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director

"30 years ago, access to HIV treatment in the countries hardest hit by the epidemic was not deemed possible. Today's increased access to treatment is a tangible prove of what can be achieved when all sectors join forces to address the AIDS epidemic," said Ambassador Goosby.

It was also stressed that one of the major achievements of the AIDS response is the fact that it has been an entry point to larger social issues, giving vulnerable people a voice and the power to use it. As Michel Sidibé contended, "HIV should not be seen as a disease but an opportunity and entry point to address critical issues in society including human rights and gender equality."

Participants concluded that businesses, from the largest global corporations to micro enterprises, private sector associations and coalitions need to lend their resources and expertise in order to effectively respond to AIDS. Businesses should move beyond ensuring the well-being of their employees and actively contribute to the response by disseminating vital AIDS information through print, broadcast and billboard advertising space; lobbying for effective AIDS policies and providing financial resources to life-saving programmes.

Donations have double benefit

Donating to UNAIDS in the United States of America has become easier. ‘UNAIDS USA’, a 501c3—a tax-exempt nonprofit organization in the United States of America —has been set up to facilitate the engagement of alternative sources of financing. This will make it easier for individuals, foundations and the private sector to contribute to the work of UNAIDS and its 10 cosponsors.

“I believe we can make real advances in the AIDS response in the next five years, but to do so we need to join forces not just with governments but with private individuals, activists, corporations and foundations,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. “Every small contribution helps to reach UNAIDS vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.”