Joining Together in the Fight Against AIDS

Startling new statistics indicate that HIV rates in the U.S. are worse than previously estimated, particularly among the most at-risk minority populations in urban areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 56,000 people become infected with HIV/AIDS every year in the United States - a 40% increase over previous estimates. This disturbing new data demonstrates that more must be done to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS here in the United States

New solutions are desperately needed, and all sectors must come together with new energy and new resolve. This week, a coalition of American corporations will announce a new initiative to dramatically improve our national response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This coordinated effort combines the private sector's unique skills, expertise and resources with HIV programs run by non-profit organizations and the government to protect the lives of millions of Americans.

Orchestrated by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC), the U.S. HIV Initiative is an innovative new approach to the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Nothing quite like this has ever been done before in the U.S., and we believe this united effort will reverse the epidemic's trajectory.

Why are so many groups - public and private, global and local - mobilizing to make major headway on this common objective? The answer is simple and compelling. Ending the human suffering caused by this epidemic is critical to the interests of people everywhere, including our companies, our employees and the communities where we operate.

Over the last quarter century, HIV/AIDS has claimed more than 25 million lives. Here in the U. S., more than 500,000 have died. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic has the greatest impact, HIV/AIDS steals a child's life every 60 seconds.

Our current financial challenges must not divert our attention from this growing crisis. We simply cannot afford to reverse the progress we have made in HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the U.S., or around the world. Levi Strauss & Co. and Chevron represent two very different industries - retail apparel and energy - that have developed unique approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

In our work around the world, we have witnessed firsthand the destructive power of this disease. Although its pain invades every aspect of family life and human emotion, the toll is also economic. Its imprint bears a depressing similarity: Increased health care costs for communities and nations, decreased availability of skilled and productive workers, and, ultimately, a weakened consumer base. The statistics are alarming - HIV/AIDS is projected to reduce the size of the labor force in 32 African countries by up to 35% by 2020, and may substantially debilitate economic growth in major emerging economies in the coming decade[1].

Fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS shows how long-term business planning and a commitment to corporate responsibility can -- and must -- be intrinsically linked.

GBC helps firms like ours play an important role in landmark public programs like the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). GBC promotes evidence-based responses, using data, not dogma to drive success and enable companies like Levi Strauss and Chevron to better apply resources, share best practices, and organize next-generation approaches to collective action.

For example, Levi Strauss and NGO partner New Start created the Red for Life campaign in South Africa to raise youth awareness of HIV/AIDS testing and prevention. Through events like the Rage for Revolution concert series, Levi Strauss has distributed millions of condoms and urged hundreds of thousands of South Africans to get tested for HIV/AIDS. Since its inception, more than 80,000 people in South Africa have been tested through the program.

Chevron has developed industry-leading HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria prevention and education programs for employees and communities in over 180 nations. Strategic partnerships have been formed to combat HIV/AIDS in Angola, Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. For example, one company-established wellness center on South Africa's border reduced sexually transmitted infections - often linked to HIV/AIDS - by an average annual rate of 17 percent. Among Chevron's Angolan workforce, company-sponsored testing and anti-retroviral drugs have virtually eliminated mother-to-infant transmissions of the disease.

In this battle, no one can afford to stand on the sidelines. With business, government, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and communities working together, we will turn the tide against HIV/AIDS. We urge others to join us in the fight.

The authors are, respectively, the chief executive officers of Levi Strauss & Co., Chevron Corporation, and The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.