Global business coalition on HIV/AIDS
Bill Valentino

China's health officials are currently faced with some of the country's most pressing and unprecedented issues regarding public health and social development. In this setting, the debate rages on about reforms of the nation's health care system.

China's growing HIV/AIDS epidemic is one example of how the private sector is taking on a proactive role in addressing one of China's most challenging public health issues through collaborative interaction with the government, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a multi-sectoral response to combat HIV/AIDS.

At the vanguard of this initiative is the Global Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GBC), a leading global organization mobilizing business in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In 2004, the GBC created the China Business and AIDS Working Group, bringing together over 60 businesses in China to help facilitate business action on HIV/AIDS. The group is intended to bring together Chinese and foreign businesses to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China.

The work of the GBC in China is in close partnership with China's Ministry of Health, integrating the GBC's network of over 200 leading Chinese and international companies which under the GBC now represents a workforce of 4 million employees in 178 countries.

In March 2005, the GBC and the Chinese Ministry of Health hosted a Joint Summit on Business and HIV/AIDS in Beijing to catalyze business involvement on HIV/AIDS. The summit succeeded in identifying actionable ways by which the private sector can partner the government to advance China's national HIV/AIDS strategy for prevention and control.

Following the summit, an increasing number of companies are now acting to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic by leveraging their resources and expertise in the national fight against HIV/AIDS. They are working to also implement prevention and control policies in their own offices and facilities targeted at protecting their employees and businesses from HIV/AIDS.

Additional objectives of these companies led by the GBC are to not only to succeed through action in the workplace but also in the community. They represent an important function of the private sector in the healthcare system as advocates of early intervention and prevention as the key to avoiding a national AIDS crisis.

The GBC member companies benefit from a three-step business management model called the "Business AIDS Methodology" (BAM) for the design and implementation of corporate responses to HIV/AIDS. Applied in three steps - situation analysis, strategy design and strategy implementation - there are four key areas identified where businesses can act: Advocacy and Leadership, Workplace, Core Competency and Community Involvement.

Examples of how GBC member companies in Beijing have already demonstrated their commitment to implementing community projects include Bayer and Merck, Sharp Dome.

MSD's Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership is a $30 million project over a five-year period, established in 2005 with the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of HIV, support people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, and to reintegrate people living with HIV/AIDS as productive members of their communities.

Bayer China and Tsinghua University last year started an innovative public health initiative, the "Tsinghua-Bayer Public Health and HIV/AIDS Media Studies Programme" designed to promote and support the vital role that the media plays in China as a strategic resource in educating as well as in shaping public attitudes and understanding about HIV/AIDS. These are all critical factors in creating awareness, prevention, giving care and reducing stigmatization and discrimination.

While the burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis threatens to undermine China's economic progress, the GBC plans to scale up its work in China by establishing an office very soon in Beijing in space provided by one of its member companies

Addressing HIV/AIDS is a task for all sectors of society. A workplace HIV/AIDS programme or other private sector initiatives do not operate in isolation from government, local communities, other companies or civil society groups.It is one of many contributors to an overall national effort to control the disease and its impact. In this capacity, the private sector is making a contribution to China's health care reforms by offering options to solve some of the biggest health-related issues confronting China and its leaders today.

(August 31, 2005)

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