UNAIDS & GBCHealth: Catalyzing the Business Response to HIV/AIDS

Ian MatthewsNews

Ending AIDS is everyone’s business

UNAIDS and GBCHealth are urging businesses to actively help to refocus attention, action and commitment to fulfill the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2030. The world has reached a crossroads in the response to HIV/AIDS. The number of people becoming infected and dying is decreasing, but not fast enough. There are an estimated 38 million women, men and children living with HIV today, more than ever before, making AIDS one of the biggest health and development threats of our time. And yet, the resources needed to bolster progress declined by US$ 1 billion in 2018, despite the tremendous unmet need.

The AIDS response has united the international community in a way that no other health crisis has. AIDS has taught us that we must address critical linkages―between health, injustice, inequality, poverty and conflict. And AIDS has taught us that the challenge of ending epidemics is too great for any one sector to tackle alone. 

Businesses have led and significantly contributed to the current state of progress in the AIDS response, but there is not enough collaboration at scale and level of ambition to meet the gaps in investment and implementation needed to meet the target of ending AIDS by 2030. Business continues to have a vital role to play in ending AIDS; through business innovations in products and services; relationships with employees, consumers and policymakers; core capabilities in logistics, data analytics and marketing; and financial and human resources can all help to fill gaps in publicly funded HIV testing, prevention and treatment programs (click here for a recent article by Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. & Nancy Wildfeir-Field, President, GBCHealth).

Reenergizing support

On the sidelines of UNGA 74, UNAIDS and GBCHealth brought together business leaders to explore how enhanced business action can catalyze today’s AIDS response – in alignment with the efforts of governments, civil society, and donors – for maximum impact. Long-term champions such as Anglo American and BD shared historical perspectives and lessons that can be applied to current efforts. Newer voices shared the urgency for action and accountability. All agreed that: the regional voice is essential; doing nothing is a costly option; collaboration is a cornerstone in realizing a world free of AIDS; and businesses at the forefront of the AIDS response will see benefits from both a social and business perspective.

Initiating the discussion, UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Kenneth Cole made a strong case as to the commercial imperative for business to reengage in the HIV/AIDS discussion, and the opportunity for institutions to make history by ending AIDS by 2030.

BD Executive Vice President, Global Health and President, BD Foundation, Gary Cohen provided historical context, remarking that the collaboration around HIV/AIDS was the entry point for many companies across sectors in both their understanding of the business imperatives and engagement in public health issues. GBCHealth began its history as the Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS, and was founded by Amb. Holbrooke during this time when HIV/AIDS soared at crisis levels and few companies had programs to protect their employees and communities.

Stefaan Van der Borght, Global Head of Health, Anglo American stressed the importance of maintaining comprehensive workplace policies, and shared his perspective on Anglo’s story of being spurred into action by the epidemic, and still prioritizing HIV/AIDS with its employees today.

The roundtable served to inspire institutions and helped to outline a framework and roadmap for business action, reflective of the evolving environment today, including a set of principles backed by three action pillars:

  • Advocacy, addressing both the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease as well as specific policies which are detrimental to tackling AIDS in both host communities and supply chains
  • Workplace Policies, providing updated tools and frameworks to help companies improve internal policies, as well as leveraging and extending impact through their supply chains
  • Corporate Interests and Competencies, ensuring that corporate expertise, innovation and voice can be effectively harnessed to realize an end to AIDS by 2030.

Companies need to be part of the solution toward translating the ambitious vision of zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination into a roadmap for business action, laying out a pathway between now and 2030 built around roles, responsibilities, opportunities and risks across sectors. Business has a critical role to play as a source of finance; a driver of innovation and technology; and an engine of economic growth and employment. Businesses can contribute by creating safe work environments across their operations so as to address stigma and discrimination, which is a major contributor to new HIV infections, linked to lower access to health services as well as income inequality. Through the AIDS response, leading companies have an opportunity to raise the bar on human rights performance, embedding human rights in corporate culture, setting clear expectations of suppliers and business partners and driving meaningful engagement and collaborations across the value chain.

A call to action

With World AIDS Day approaching on December 1st, UNAIDS and GBCHealth are gathering private sector support for a joint statement demonstrating business’ commitment to ending AIDS by 2030. Further, UNAIDS and GBCHealth are gathering case studies of successful workplace HIV/AIDS practices. Businesses have valuable reach to their workers, dependents and communities, and can be on the frontlines of the AIDS response, especially in developing countries.

UNAIDS and GBCHealth are urging businesses to join the AIDS response and reinvigorate cross-sector collaboration to save lives, and realize a historic opportunity to end one of the major health crises of the past 100 years. If your organization is interested in getting involved, participating in the World AIDS Day statement, and/or submitting workplace policy case studies, contact Matt Romney, Communications Officer, GBCHealth (), or Frauke Joosten, Advisor, Public-Private Partnerships, UNAIDS (). 

Ian MatthewsUNAIDS & GBCHealth: Catalyzing the Business Response to HIV/AIDS