SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES UNITED STATES BUSINESS LEADERS TO TAKE CONCERTED ACTION AGAINST 'UNPARALLELED NIGHTMARE' OF AIDS

1 June 2001
SG/SM/7827-AIDS/13

SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES UNITED STATES BUSINESS LEADERS TO TAKE CONCERTED ACTION AGAINST 'UNPARALLELED NIGHTMARE' OF AIDS

01/06/2001
Press Release
SG/SM/7827
AIDS/13


SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES UNITED STATES BUSINESS LEADERS TO TAKE CONCERTED ACTION

AGAINST 'UNPARALLELED NIGHTMARE' OF AIDS


Following is the text of remarks made today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the United States Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.:


I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you this morning about the revolutionary role business can play in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  It is a chance for me to explain why the international community cannot win this fight without you.  And why doing so may be in your own interests, as well as in the broader interest of humanity.


HIV/AIDS is a global problem of catastrophic proportions.  The world has never before faced a pandemic such as this.  More than 4 million children have already died from AIDS before they reached the age of 15.  There is no more time for half measures.  In terms of lives lost, children orphaned, and the destruction of the social and economic fabric of whole societies and whole countries, AIDS is an unparalleled nightmare.


What is more, its impact continues to grow.  In the worst affected countries -- where more than one in five adults are infected -- infrastructure, services and productive capacity are facing total collapse.


The challenge is enormous, but we are not powerless to face it.


That is why I have made it my personal priority to form a global alliance commensurate with the challenge.  Only through a truly global alliance will AIDS be defeated.  And in our shrinking world, all of us need to be involved in the solution because -- one way or another, sooner or later -- all of us will be involved in the problem.


I began my campaign in April by speaking to African leaders in Abuja, Nigeria.  It is clear that there is now a fundamental recognition among African governments that they must face this issue head-on.


Soon afterwards, I went to Philadelphia to meet with philanthropic foundations; and then to Geneva to address health ministers at the World Health Assembly.  To all of them, I issued a Call to Action, focusing on preventing further spread of the epidemic; preventing mother-to-child transmission; caring for those already infected; delivering research breakthroughs, especially a vaccine; and alleviating the impact of AIDS on the most vulnerable -- particularly orphans.

Prevention, Care, Research:  it is a plan I believe we can all rally round.


To achieve these ends, we need leadership.  And so today I come to you, the leaders of American business:  representatives of one of the greatest forces in the world, but one which has yet to be fully utilized in the campaign against HIV/AIDS.  It is high time we tapped your strengths to the full.


But first, why should business be involved?  Why should it be your business?


The answer is simple:  because AIDS affects business.  The spread of the pandemic has caused business costs to expand, and markets to shrink.  As both the current balance sheet and future indicators show, the business community needs to get involved, to protect its bottom line.


AIDS is uniquely disruptive to economies, because it kills people in the prime of their lives.  More than four out of five people dying from AIDS are in their 20s, 30s or 40s.  Especially in the early stages of the pandemic, AIDS tends to strike urban centres, the better educated, the leadership elite and the most productive members of society.  A study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found the highest prevalence rates among white-collar executives, followed by foremen, and then workers.


These deaths leach profits out of businesses and economies.  The loss of every breadwinner’s income reduces the access of dependants to health care, education and nutrition -- leaving them, in turn, more vulnerable to infection.  This cycle need be repeated only a few times and AIDS destroys an entire community.


Africa has been hit disproportionately hard.  By the beginning of the next decade, South Africa's gross domestic product -- which represents 40 per cent of the region's economic output -- will be 17 per cent lower than it would have been without AIDS.


And by 2020, if current trends continue, the total workforce in 15 countries analysed by the International Labour Organization will have shrunk by 24 million people, as a result of AIDS.


But the economic havoc of AIDS is not confined to Africa.  It is building at alarming rates around the world -- including places not so far from here.  In the English-speaking Caribbean, it is now the leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 44.


In Russia, there were more new infections in 2000 than in all previous years combined.  In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of new infections has risen by more than two thirds in the past year.


In India and China, two of America's largest export markets and sources of supply, the trend is particularly disturbing.  India will soon be the country with the highest number of people infected with HIV, and China is not far behind.  By 2005, the two countries together will have 10 million or more HIV-positive citizens.


As 42 per cent of United States exports go to markets in the developing world, the negative impact of AIDS on American business should be obvious.

But the cost of AIDS reverberates on many other levels.  It undermines regional and global security and stability.  In January last year, the United Nations Security Council held its first meeting on a health issue -- the impact of HIV/AIDS on peace and security in Africa.  A Central Intelligence Agency report issued the same month stated that the burden of infectious diseases will add to political instability and slow democratic development in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and the former Soviet Union.  That is certainly not good for business.


And as AIDS creates more poverty and deepens inequalities, it fuels the growing public backlash against globalization.  This sentiment will only get stronger and more widespread if we do not show ourselves determined to mount a really serious response.  And in that response, business -- which has profited most from globalization -- will come under more and more public pressure to provide leadership.


So what can business do?


Business is used to acting decisively and quickly.  The same cannot always be said of the community of sovereign States.  We need your help -- right now.


There are already several examples that prove the unparalleled positive impact corporate action can have in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  It is time to turn those examples into concerted and strategic action:


-- in the workplace

-- in advocacy, and

-- in building on your corporate strengths.


The first line of action begins in the workplace.  Those of you with employees in the developing world can draw up effective AIDS policies in consultation with them.  Programmes to educate your work force about HIV can become a cornerstone of our global prevention campaign.  And when your staff are affected by HIV/AIDS, you can and must support them and their families, notably, by providing voluntary and confidential testing, counselling and treatment.


The rapidly falling price of HIV-related drugs is ushering in a revolution for private sector involvement.  The world's biggest pharmaceutical companies now accept the need to combine incentives for research with access to medication in poor countries.  As anti-retrovirals become more widely affordable, it is now more profitable for companies to treat their HIV-positive employees than to recruit and re-train new ones, as untreated workers die.  Indeed, one recent study in Africa showed that treating HIV-positive workers paid for itself up to 10 times over.


Volkswagen do Brasil offers a good example.  In 1996, the company launched a comprehensive programme for HIV prevention and education in the workplace, as well as treatment -- including anti-retrovirals -– and counselling for workers living with HIV and AIDS.  The company also introduced a strong policy to end discrimination and ensure confidentiality.


This began in 1996.


By 1999, the company had seen a 90 per cent reduction in hospitalization among HIV-positive workers, and a 40 per cent reduction in the cost of treatment and care.  Nine out of 10 workers living with HIV were able to remain symptom-free and productive.  This led to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, reduced loss of employees to AIDS, and higher morale in the work force.  As a result, many families kept their breadwinners, and many children still have their parents.


But of course, the contribution of business to the fight against AIDS goes far beyond the individual workplace.  You can have a wider-ranging impact, as advocates for change:  by speaking up, loud and often, about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and what can be done to stop it.  Silence and stigma drive the virus underground and fuel its spread.  Speaking up helps to halt it.


Business people are respected leaders in their communities.  You can encourage action by all sectors of society, and particularly by your peers in other companies.


You can use your skills and assets in marketing and communications, through product packaging and through advertising.  You can help build the logistic expertise and the capacity needed to deliver supplies of prevention and care materials.  And you can transfer the technology of brand loyalty to help boost commitment -- especially among young people -- to the fight against AIDS, as well as linking your brands to a goal of social responsibility, following the examples of Levi Strauss and the Body Shop.


You can offer your expertise in public affairs, human resources, and corporate strategy planning, to help AIDS service organizations and community groups, which are in the front line in the fight against the epidemic, and desperately need these skills.


You can also adopt sector-specific approaches.  Let me give you an example:


In Thailand, some insurance companies encourage their corporate policy holders to develop HIV workplace programmes, and offer preferential rates to those customers that do.  They have seen reduced costs as a result of healthier workforces, and gained new business by building a reputation for looking after their policy-holders.


And there are many other inspiring examples you can draw upon.


The Global Business Council on HIV/AIDS is a consortium of companies that are working together to introduce better workplace practices, and to encourage chief executives to be leaders and innovators in the battle to halt the spread of the epidemic.


And in January 1999, I myself launched the Global Compact -- a partnership between the United Nations and business, which encourages corporate responsibility in the areas of human rights, core labour standards and the environment.


The Compact's learning forum provides an effective platform for sharing learning experiences and best practices.  It is heartening to note that the leading companies in some of the most affected countries have been inspired by

local Compact workshops to take action in the workplace and in the wider community, in care and in prevention.


Finally, you can contribute as donors.  The total spending on AIDS prevention and care in low- and middle-income countries needs to rise to something between seven and 10 billion dollars each year.  That is at least five times the amount that citizens, national governments and international donors are currently spending on the disease.


It may sound like a lot.  But Harvard has estimated that AIDS has already cost the world more than $500 billion.  So 10 billion a year to defeat it seems fairly reasonable -- in fact, a bargain.


As a mechanism for mobilizing some of this extra money, I have proposed the creation of a Global AIDS and Health Fund to support national programmes and strategies.  It will be open to both government and private donors. 


Over the past few weeks, there has been an exciting convergence of views on this concept from a variety of people -- governments, private foundations, civil society organizations, and academics.  We share a common vision that the Fund must be structured in such a way as to be light and flexible, and to ensure that it responds effectively to the needs of the affected countries and people.


By joining the global fight against HIV/AIDS, your business will see benefits on its bottom line.  You will see direct benefits, such as protecting investment and reducing risk.  And you will make less tangible, but no less important, gains in assets such as reputation and customer loyalty.


But even though HIV/AIDS poses a huge economic threat, it is, first and foremost, a humanitarian imperative.  In fact, there is a happy convergence between what your shareholders pay you for, and what is best for millions of people the world over.  That makes my job here today a little easier!


Together, I believe we will succeed -- if only because the costs of failure are simply too appalling to contemplate.


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For information media. Not an official record.