Bolstered by the global multisector response to Ebola and Zika over the past two years, I have found myself reflecting on the origins of business engagement in the HIV/AIDS pandemic when MTV Networks and the Financial Times came together with four large pharmaceutical companies to start the Global Business Council, which eventually became GBCHealth.
Since 1995, HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the US have dropped by 85 percent. 17 million people now have access to lifesaving HIV treatment and 5.5 million deaths have been averted globally from 1995 to 2012. These milestones were achieved in no small part with the support of the private sector through the dedicated mobilization of resources and expertise for on-the-ground impact. During this period, businesses have provided less costly ARVs for distribution, created inclusive workplace policies to guard against discrimination and created award winning public-private awareness campaigns about the virus and disease.
Today, that legacy has continued and expanded beyond HIV/AIDS. Corporations have broadened the meaning of social responsibility, creating company-specific programs and initiatives that result in evidence-based impact for the most vulnerable populations. An array of new CSR programs now address maternal, newborn and child health, non-communicable and neglected tropical diseases, and rapid response to outbreaks like Ebola and Zika.
But the private sector must not waver in its efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, and the root causes that continue to fuel this epidemic. We need to use our influence to advocate for more inclusive policies at a national and global level that do not alienate certain populations based on their HIV status, gender, and/or sexual orientation. We cannot waver in our creative approaches to incentivize people to seek out preventative, diagnostic and treatment services. We must be rigorous and committed to deploying resources to innovate new products for prevention, treatment and diagnosis of the disease. Moreover, we simply cannot let up on protecting our employees – no matter how small or large our business is, or whether they live in countries with a high burden or low burden. It is our business and human responsibility to protect our workers.
As the founding Chairman of MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation, I have seen the value of using our unique competence as a media powerhouse to reach our viewers – young people all over the world – with life-changing messages. Through Staying Alive, we have developed programming, accompanied by on-the-ground training and community outreach in partnership with local grantees, to elevate the urgency around HIV/AIDS testing, prevention and sexual violence. One of our most successful projects is the MTV Shuga Series. Launched in Kenya in 2009, Shuga is now in its fifth season having successfully expanded to series in Nigeria and now South Africa, reaching over 719 million households and even producing an Oscar Winner! The success of Shuga is simple: combine sexual health messaging with a series of interlocking stories about a group of African youth, using local actors and personalities through TV, radio and community engagement. For us, the success is not enough if we are not helping to alter behaviors of our audiences. Young people, ages 15-24, continue to account for close to half of new infections globally with sub-Saharan Africa carrying the lion’s share of the burden. 80% of young people living in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with the disease yet treatment access remains low.
At the International AIDS Conference in Durban in July, we will be announcing some very positive results from a recent World Bank study on the program in Nigeria and its impact on behavior change. I call on all our partners in the private sector to unite with us, with local communities, with countries and scientists to revitalize the AIDS response. Themed Access Equity Rights Now, the conference calls on all stakeholders to unite and take action against criminalization, gender-based violence and HIV stigma in real and tangible ways.
To highlight champions across these different sectors, GBCHealth is curating an interview series leading up to, during and after the conference. These interviews will aim to recount some of the successes of cross-sectoral partnerships, reflect on expectations for the outcomes of the Durban Conference, and address key gaps and challenges that threaten to undermine global action to eliminate HIV/AIDS by 2030. Together, we can defeat the epidemic.
Additional interviews in the series: