people and community chevron’s leader in health on lessons from contagion
3 min read | february 14, 2023
Huma Abbasi, Chevron’s general manager of Health & Medical, applied lessons from the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic decades earlier to inform the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When COVID-19 triggered a global pandemic, no country or industry had a roadmap, but Chevron’s response to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) outbreak 35 years ago gave us some semblance of a playbook. The newsroom recently caught up with Huma Abbasi, a medical doctor and Chevron’s general manager of Health & Medical. She told us about how the rampant spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) back then has yielded valuable lessons for a modern pandemic.
“Our HIV journey started in the California Bay Area, home to our company’s headquarters. This area was impacted in the early 1980s by HIV and AIDS,” said Abbasi.
general manager health & medical
Since then, Abbasi and her team have developed policies, programs and partnerships to improve access to health care in the communities where we operate. When COVID-19 emerged, Chevron activated a corporate pandemic response team.
“We had already learned that if your community is devastated by an infectious disease, everything goes down,” said Abbasi. “So, we knew that we had to work hard, and we had to work urgently to make sure that we had a better handle on COVID-19.”
past is prologue
Although COVID-19 was unprecedented in many respects, the similarities to the early days of HIV were abundant. For Abbasi’s team the parallels to the HIV/AIDS crisis were uncanny.
First and foremost, Abbasi said, was the stigma.
“COVID-19 was being associated with certain races, certain populations, certain countries and people that originated from certain countries,” said Abbasi.
“We picked up on that early on and developed education materials to address stigma and discrimination. In fact, for that matter, even in monkeypox, the same thing started.”
The second parallel Abbasi’s team recognized was that misinformation was spreading as quickly as the disease.
“Our priority was providing timely, accurate intel to the workforce,” Abbasi said. “We held monthly town halls and, in the beginning, we even held some twice a month. The intent behind that was to direct our people to the resources that provided credible information.”
As a longstanding advocate for HIV research and prevention, Chevron already had an experienced team to promote education in the workplace. But the scope of contagion was nonetheless daunting.
“This was the first time we have dealt with a disease on such a large scale,” said Abbasi. “There was new science and new learnings coming almost every day, and we were trying to synthesize and make sure we developed education and awareness material for our workforce. But we also wanted to make sure the material was culturally sensitive because, for instance, people in Africa were seeing the pandemic differently than the people in Asia.”
Last year, Abbasi served as a moderator at the 2022 International AIDS Conference where she had a chance to reflect on Chevron’s 35-year journey fighting for a cure.
“I believe that having that visibility at that podium, talking about financing for HIV and AIDS, puts us in that advocacy role where we are energizing, we are informing,” Abbasi said. “We need for other sectors, and some of the companies from our sector, to come forward to join us in this fight because we need more funding and more people than ever.”
At the end of the day, Abbasi becomes emotional when she thinks about the loss of even one life in our Chevron family. She said that leading with empathy is what makes us human.
“At Chevron, we believe that multinational companies such as ours are dependent on our communities, and we realize that business success is inextricably connected to the health and prosperity of the communities where we operate,” Abbasi said.
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