|The Business Response to HIV/AIDS: Innovation and Partnership (UNAIDS, 1997, 60 p.)|
by Sir Richard Sykes
Chairman of Glaxo Wellcome and Chairman of the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS is the pandemic of our generation and it shows no sign of waning. In 1996, there were an estimated 3.1 million new cases of HIV infection worldwide, bringing the total number of people on this planet infected with the virus to an estimated 23 million. These numbers are of course a pale reflection of the epidemic's devastating medical and social impact, but HIV/AIDS also has far reaching economic effects which are damaging countries around the world. Without question, business has to respond not only for its own good but for the good of the community.
It is against this background that The Global Business Council on HIV and AIDS was conceived and launched on October 23rd 1997. The Council is a new initiative that brings together the expertise and knowledge of the corporate sector to support the global fight against HIV and AIDS.
The Council has roots in a wide range of national and international initiatives and projects on which many of us in the corporate sector have been working for a number of years; such as national business coalitions against AIDS, and the satellite meetings of The Global Business Response to AIDS initiative at the International Conference on AIDS. In November 1996, leading multinational companies came together with UNAIDS and The National AIDS Trust in the United Kingdom to define the rationale for business involvement in the fight against AIDS.
Companies themselves have an excellent track record in working in partnership with governments and international agencies to ameliorate the effects of the epidemic.
To give just a few examples, there are:
· commercial initiatives, such as "cause related marketing" carried out in association with fundraising and public education events
· social investment initiatives, which involve the promotion of health education in communities close to company facilities or in target audiences for a particular product
· philanthropic initiatives, through which companies provide equipment, financial or technical assistance to charities and other voluntary groups.
At the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos at the start of 1997, leaders from business, international agencies and governments came together to discuss the contribution business can make, headed by President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. At that gathering we recognised that the enormity of the global challenge posed by HIV/AIDS requires that governments and intergovernmental agencies must continue to take the lead in addressing this global problem. Yet, there is a clear supporting role for business to play. It can make a unique contribution through partnerships with its customers and communities to which they belong. Much more than just providing financial support, the business community with its marketing and organisational skills, can bring a commercial efficiency to the delivery of health promotion messages to targeted audiences, whether they be young people in industrialised countries, or urban workers in emerging markets.
But why should business and I mean not just healthcare companies but the wider business community harness its skills as part of a public health policy? And why particularly in the field of HIV/AIDS? At Davos we recognised that business cannot operate in a vacuum. It has to engage the real world. Business can also act as an advocate, helping to keep AIDS on the international agenda, and thereby demonstrate the benefits business can bring to society as a whole through its products and as a corporate citizen in partnership with the public sector.
Without question, business has to respond for its own good; and what is good for business is invariably good for the community. In many countries across the world the epidemic is affecting the workforce, markets and overall business climate. Studies in Southern and Eastern Africa conducted by the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) and for the US organisation AIDSCAP, reach the same conclusion. They tell us that the HIV/AIDS epidemic results in:
· the loss of experienced personnel particularly at the middle management and skilled worker levels
· the need for increased resources to hire and retrain replacements
· an increase in absenteeism and labour turnover
· a decrease in productivity
· and most damagingly and persuasively, increased health care costs, including expanding the number of healthcare staff, medical insurance, life insurance premiums and disability payments, adding to the already heavy burden of healthcare costs which society has to carry.
McGraw Hill has predicted that, by the year 2000, the global economic impact of HIV/AIDS will be equivalent to between 1 and 4 per cent of the GDP of the United States of America. For companies operating in the global marketplace, HIV/AIDS creates costs, whether they be micro-economic, affecting individual communities and the businesses that serve them, or macro-economic, affecting whole regions. At the very least this suggests that companies should be initiating HIV education programmes in the workplace. To date, protecting employees from the threat of HIV/AIDS has been the dominant concern of businesses. Glaxo Wellcome's HIV awareness programme, having been piloted in all our units in English speaking countries, is now being rolled out to virtually every member of our 55,000 strong workforce worldwide. We are not unique. Many companies operate similar employee awareness programmes, our own programme is available for other companies and can be obtained through the British National AIDS Trust.
The success of business, however, is dependent on the health of audiences far wider than its employees. Many factors in society can impact on the business climate. Where appropriate, business should participate in public health initiatives with the public and voluntary sectors. HIV/AIDS is no exception.
With rates of infections exploding in some regions of the world, while stabilising in others, we are entering a new phase of the epidemic. Therefore the need to review successes so far, and to develop strategies for the future could not be more timely. Hence the need for the Global Business Council on HIV and AIDS.
The Council will be a group often to fifteen companies, represented by their most senior officers, and characterised by their commitment to HIV/AIDS causes, their reputations as excellent corporate citizens and their ability to mobilise and inspire others. Members will be able to exchange relevant experience on forming public and private sector partnerships against the epidemic, and thereby inspire and encourage other companies to develop similar projects. The council will also advise UNAIDS as the highest level, providing a corporate perspective on the strategies and activities of the joint United Nations programme against HIV and AIDS. Above all, the Council will provide a high profile public face for the corporate response to the epidemic, helping to keep the issue on the global public health agenda.
Membership does not entail financial commitment to the initiative, nor does it entail considerable time commitment we are planning one event a year, most likely linked to the annual World Economic Forum. Rather, the commitment we seek from members is visible and public advocacy of the private sector playing a full role in support of governments and international agencies against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
We can make a difference. Partnerships between the public and private sector do work, and I believe we can begin now to look forward to a time in the not too distant future when, through our collective efforts, this epidemic can be brought under control.