The 21st International AIDS Conference, also known as AIDS 2016, was expected to have nearly 20,000 people from around the globe gathering in Durban, South Africa to show their support for the fight against AIDS. This year’s theme, “Access Equity Rights Now,” issued a clear call-to-action to address the inequality in care, treatment and prevention. Despite huge advances in moving toward the eradication of HIV/AIDS, 39 million people today are living with HIV/AIDS, and nearly 60 percent of people living with HIV remain without access to antiretroviral therapy. AIDS 2016 will bring together the world’s experts on HIV to share knowledge, promote activism and build partnerships.
Dr. Huma Abbasi, general manager of health and medical at Chevron, attended the conference to discuss the importance of public-private partnerships in improving access to health care aimed at eradicating diseases in underserved communities. Chevron is committed to collaborating with governments, NGOs and nonprofits to provide resources and education to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV as a key way to bring about an AIDS-free generation. We caught up with Dr. Abbasi to learn more about Chevron’s partnerships and programs.
How and why did Chevron choose to focus on HIV/AIDS and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission? Why did this make business sense for the company?
Raising awareness and reducing the stigma of AIDS has been top-of-mind for Chevron for nearly 30 years, as some of our largest operations are located where the grip of AIDS is strongest. In 1986, public health issues began to put employee productivity and community well-being at risk, and Chevron decided to take action by joining 13 other San Francisco Bay Area companies to promote HIV/AIDS education in the workplace. As a matter of fact, Chevron was the first oil and gas company to adopt a global policy on HIV/AIDS.
In the years that followed, Chevron extended its commitment to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, through partnerships that focus on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Mother-to-child transmission of HIV is a huge concern in Nigeria, where our company has a large footprint. Almost a quarter of the world’s occurrences of mother-to-child tran…. As a result, we are actively engaged in multiple partnerships to provide the education, access to care and treatment for mothers and children to stay healthy. Even though fighting HIV/AIDS is not our core business, it is core to the success of our business, which is dependent on healthy communities.
As an energy company, how are you positioned to address this issue?
Everywhere we work, we strive to build lasting partnerships to create prosperity now and for decades to come. Working with partners globally and at local levels, we dedicate our capabilities, resources and people to support initiatives that build local capacity and deliver real, lasting gains in the fight against devastating diseases — particularly with HIV/AIDS. We believe health is key to unlocking potential in our communities.
What have been some of your most remarkable successes with AIDS and PMTCT programs?
In 2011, Chevron embarked on a mission to help reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV through partnerships with Pact, Born Free Africa and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Angola, Nigeria and South Africa.
In one example, our partnership with Pact and the Bayelsa state government in Nigeria provided HIV/AIDS education, testing and counselling to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child. Since 2012, this partnership has trained 735 Community Health Extension Workers and Community Based Organizations in PMTCT approaches and techniques; our PMTCT messaging has reached more than 290,000 people; and nearly 54,000 pregnant women have taken HIV tests, received their results and been counselled at health facilities. While these results are impressive, our work is far from complete.
What lessons have you learned from these programs that others in the private or public sector could replicate and apply to their own work?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my experience with these partnerships, it’s that collaboration is integral to success. We work alongside partners – international NGOs and state and local governments – to support health systems and build capacity. Partnerships are essential because no one entity can solve the complexity of the challenges that face us today.
That’s why I’m so pleased that such a robust group of private sector, NGO and government leaders were at AIDS 2016. AIDS 2016 provided a great opportunity for organizations with a shared commitment to discuss successes, challenges and explore opportunities for future collaboration.
What role do you think other companies can play in improving health and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa? What unique skills do companies have to offer?
Companies are an integral piece to the puzzle of improving livelihoods in communities where they operate. The private sector brings industry experience, business acumen and capital, as well as an international network to the table.
When that large-scale understanding is coupled with on-the-ground knowledge from partners, change can be achieved.
As a medical doctor, what unique stories do you have to share from the field?
One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had was a partnership with the Angolan government official, whom I met while I was in Angola. He was so impressed by our clinical operations in Angola that he asked us to come and audit the local hospitals and give them suggestions for improvement. He hoped that our experience and our clinicians would be able to help identify areas for improvement in the hospital in addressing HIV/AIDS. For me, this was significant – that a health minister was asking for support from our company. It truly demonstrates the power of cross-sector action and the change we can drive at scale when the private and public sectors come together.
Any leadership lessons to offer on how to champion social investment programs in large companies?
Successful social investment programs require in-depth strategy, data-driven markers for results, full support from leadership and alignment on national health priorities. They also require company culture that values and supports its employees, their employees’ families and the communities where they operate. In my work as general manager for health and medical, I’ve learned that it is incredibly important to build relationships across the company and with key external stakeholders to help build buy-in and support as we develop and implement health programs.