Today, on the 22nd annual World AIDS Day, it is worth taking a moment to note the significant progress that has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- and recommit ourselves to the enormous amount of work that remains to be done.
First the good news: AIDS no longer means certain death and the stigma once associated with living with HIV/AIDS has been greatly reduced in many parts of the world. According to the latest report by UNAIDS, fewer people are becoming infected with HIV. Further, an effective and affordable microbicide to protect against infection and an HIV vaccine that could be therapeutic as well as preventative are both much more realistic prospects than they were a year or two ago. These advances, along with increased access to safe, effective, low-cost antiretroviral drugs means millions of people will live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
Despite this progress, AIDS continues to be a human tragedy of epic proportions: nearly 8,000 people die from AIDS-related causes every day, and for every person we are able to reach with antiretroviral treatment, nearly three more are infected with HIV. Since the beginning of the epidemic, almost 60 million people have been infected and 25 million have died of causes related to HIV.
The United States has been a leader in the fight. In 2009, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), helped treat 2.5 million AIDS sufferers around the world and the U.S. recently committed $4 billion to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This funding, along with on-going strategic commitments by other countries like France, Great Britain and The Netherlands is making a significant impact, but the unmet needs are extraordinary and there is much more to be done.
Through 2009, programs supported by The Global Fund had saved nearly 5 million lives. While the results are significant, The Global Fund recently announced it would have to postpone the expansion and scaling up of some programs due to financial constraints.
This funding squeeze means the strategic engagement of corporate partners is more critical than ever. Success in the fight against HIV/AIDS requires all hands on deck, including the private sector. When strategically paired with the core competencies of the world's leading companies, partners like PEPFAR and the Global Fund can stretch the impact of limited resources.
But why should businesses care?
AIDS strikes people regardless of age, often affecting the very men and women best positioned to contribute to society. Even today, AIDS is wiping out decades of progress: children are forced to drop out of school to care for parents and businesses face rising labor costs and a shortage of skilled workers.
A business, whether global or local, cannot prosper without a healthy workforce and a healthy economy. That is why it is imperative for the private sector to join together with governments, non-profit organizations and civil society (including faith-based organizations) to wage battle against HIV/AIDS.
Having been involved in the global fight against HIV/AIDS for 25 years, Chevron has learned that true progress can only be made through partnership and collaboration. Chevron is committed to this fight because it affects the company's employees, their families and their communities. And the company's commitment is more than financial.
To ensure it is making a sustainable impact, Chevron engages in partnerships across the globe -- from its $55 million investment in The Global Fund to local partnerships in areas where it operates, including communities in Nigeria and Thailand, and in Oakland, California. The company extends its reach through the involvement of its employees, business partners and retail networks. In Thailand, for example, Chevron works with the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) to increase HIV/AIDS awareness and education among Chevron employees, Thai youth and retail customers in Bangkok.
But Chevron is not in this fight alone. Teams of businesses working together are even more effective vehicles for bringing urgent, focused action to bear on intractable health challenges. That's why the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria (GBC), brings corporations together and partners them with donor agencies, NGOs and local governments to leverage their unique skills and expertise and scale up efforts in the fight against AIDS and other global health challenges.
GBC also allows companies like Chevron to share training, learn best practices and form new partnerships with other companies who share common interests. Through this collaboration, we can make an even greater impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS by ensuring we are utilizing the unique resources business can bring to scale up and extend the reach of the most effective programs.
Progress is being made - but we shouldn't use that progress as an excuse to relax our efforts. We need to seize this momentum and expand upon our shared responsibility to save even more lives. Success can only be achieved through collaboration and partnership at all levels of government, business and society, each bringing their unique resources to the challenge. The result will be true and lasting progress in which we can all share.
Rhonda Zygocki is the vice president of Policy, Government, and Public Affairs for Chevron Corporation. John Tedstrom is the president and CEO of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria