Business Leaders Help in Fight Against AIDS

Leaders in the global fight against AIDS urged the international business community this week to step up efforts to combat the disease.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Hillary Clinton and actress Angelina Jolie headlined an event Wednesday night to recognize businesses that have made significant contributions in efforts against AIDS (search).

"Fifteen million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS," Jolie, who has two adopted children, told a ballroom filled with hundreds of business, political and civic leaders. Earlier in the day, many members of the audience had visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promote AIDS prevention efforts and legislation.

“Business must play a role in the fight against AIDS,” Jolie said, adding, "We will never get it under control if we are selective about who gets to survive."

Global Business Coalition President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Holbrooke (search) said teaching people about preventing the spread of the disease and getting tested regularly is the key to stemming the AIDS crisis.

"The key to this is prevention," Holbrooke said. "People must know their status, they must be tested."

He also said 95 percent of people worldwide who are HIV positive don't know their status.

More than 40 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide, with 25 million in Africa, according to statistics from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (search).

Wednesday night's event — honoring members of GBC, an organization of more than 200 international companies that assist in fighting the spread of AIDS — awarded six businesses for establishing programs, donating education materials, providing counseling and testing services and promoting other projects.

The event recognized Volkswagen of South Africa, Getty Images, MAC Cosmetics, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Virgin Unite and De Beers.

Richard Branson (search), chairman of Virgin Group of Companies, which received an award for efforts in distributing more than 1 million pieces of information materials across the United Kingdom and for other education programs, stressed the need for more attention to be directed at the AIDS crisis.

"We have not scratched the surface," Branson said. "It does seem that it needs to be treated like a war."

But it’s not just large companies like Branson’s that are aiding in the fight against AIDS. OraSure Technologies, a small business based in Bethlehem, Pa., with 200 employees, has developed and distributed a product that tests for HIV/AIDS.

The process takes about 20 minutes using oral fluids — instead of blood to avoid further spread of the disease — in clinics, hospitals and villages.

"It's truly a testament to what a small business can do in this global fight," said Douglas Michels, CEO of OraSure.

Private Sector's Role in the Planet

Secretary of State Rice said governments need help from the business community.

“Confronting HIV/AIDS is the responsibility of every nation and a moral imperative for the United States,” Rice said. “But governments alone cannot win the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Some activists added that they don't think the private sector is doing enough.

Paul Zeitz (search), executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, a non-profit organization based in Washington, said some businesses have contributed greatly to helping alleviate the suffering that comes with the disease, but the private sector is still lacking.

“I believe in the private sector having a role in the planet,” Zeitz said. “They should be directing their energy into saving lives instead of contributing to the failure of the global AIDS response. The global response is completely failing.”

Zeitz said some businesses are stepping in the right direction but are far from where they need to be in donating funds to AIDS.

Outside of private contributions, President Bush (search) announced in his 2003 State of the Union address a five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative.

Congress appropriated $2.4 billion in 2004 and $2.8 billion in 2005, according to a statement from U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias. But some Democrats and AIDS activists worry that the $3.2 billion requested for 2006 will not be fully funded.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief aims to help some of the most affected countries in Africa and the Caribbean by providing antiretroviral drugs, preventing new infections and caring for infected adults and orphans.

Rice said Bush’s initiative aims “to turn the tide against this devastating pandemic.”

“HIV/AIDS is not only a human tragedy of enormous magnitude, it is also a threat to the stability of entire countries and to entire regions of the world,” Rice said.

Some areas of effort Bush has emphasized include abstinence to prevent the further spread of the disease, funding for medications, testing and other prevention methods. Opponents of the idea frown at the success rate of promoting abstinence and prefer advocating the use of condoms.

Earlier on Wednesday, Jolie, who is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador, met with business leaders and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss efforts to aid developing countries in preventing the spread of the disease through funding, drugs and education.

"What we're going to have to do is take on AIDS," Jolie said.

"Ultimately, all the federal government does is not going to be able to get the job done without your aid," Sen. Joseph Biden (search), D-Del., told the executives.

Jolie also threw her support to legislation that would help orphans in foreign countries. A bill backed with bipartisan support would use funds, education programs and employee training to assist orphans and other children affected by vulnerable diseases, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Earlier this year, Jolie, 29, adopted Zahara, a seven-month-old orphan from Ethiopia. She also has a son Maddox, a four-year-old born in Cambodia.