03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

World AIDS Day 2009: The Business Imperative

Co-written with John Tedstrom.

Thirty years after the AIDS virus was discovered, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that still more than 33 million people worldwide are living with the disease. Last year alone there were nearly three million new infections, and two million deaths as a result of the disease.

As the world observes World AIDS Day today, we should all take a moment to reflect on the millions of victims this disease has claimed: colleagues, friends, relatives and children.

Still, we've made progress. Recent statistics reveal we are making real and meaningful progress in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS: over the past eight years, new HIV infections are down by 17 percent, in part due to large-scale HIV prevention efforts. And new treatments are helping many of those infected live years longer.

Our charge now is to guard against complacency. In the United States, for example, we risk forgetting the early lessons of the AIDS epidemic. Since the mid-1990s, infection rates in gay men have been rising. Half of all new HIV infections are believed to occur in people under the age of 25. Latinos and African-Americans are up to 23 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

In addition to the human tragedy these numbers represent, AIDS has economic implications as well. The spread of HIV/AIDS threatens the health, stability and viability of the global work force. Lost productivity increases the cost of doing business, and robs the economy of a new leaders and the next generation of innovation.

For all of these reasons, businesses must not only join, but lead the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Corporations, especially those with global reach, are uniquely positioned to make meaningful, sustainable contributions that save lives.

The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC) is bringing together businesses from a wide variety of industries to share resources and expertise to help save lives. The GBC improves public health by combining and coordinating the know-how, infrastructure and reach of businesses to bring about collective-action and produce results.

HIV/AIDS prevention and education is especially important for companies with operations and employees in countries with high incidence rates of the disease, where people may not have access to prevention education or health facilities.

Chevron, for example, operates in many countries where HIV/AIDS is prevalent, including sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. To ensure the well-being of employees, contractors and their families around the world, Chevron has established a global HIV/AIDS program, which includes education and prevention training for employees, which is also available to community clinics where employees live and Chevron's supply chain. In Angola, for example, the training and Chevron-sponsored testing has produced astounding results. Among Chevron's employees and dependents in Angola, there has not been a single case of a mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS in more than three years. Here in the United States, Chevron is joining with other U.S. corporations to increase awareness, encourage testing and promote education in high-risk urban areas like Oakland, Washington, DC and New York, through the GBC's U.S. Impact Initiative.

At the end of the day, there should be no competition in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Success can only be achieved through collaboration and partnership at all levels of government, business and society. Chevron and the GBC invite others to join us in this global fight. Working together, we can produce even greater results and save even more lives.

Dr. Richard Wilkins is the general manager of Health and Medical Services for Chevron Corporation.

John Tedstrom is the president and chief executive officer of The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.