Address to the Health Plenary Session

By Jay Pryor, Managing Director
Chevron Nigeria Ltd.

Leon H. Sullivan Summit

Abuja, Nigeria

It is a great honor for me to address you all today at this important gathering. As has been typical of the Leon Sullivan Summit since its inception, this sixth summit has brought together an extraordinary gathering of people at a forum that has assumed a defining role in the annals of nations and in the lives of people. The only missing link — and a sad one indeed — is the absence of summit founder Leon Sullivan, a man with a stirring spirit able to move mountains of hope and opportunity across continents.

The Rev. Leon Sullivan was a very passionate man, especially about education, quality training and investments in Africa, because for him they represented the scythe for cutting poverty, ignorance and fear. I address this summit's plenary session on health as a way of paying tribute to these very values that formed the core of the life of this great man.

Promoting education was a cause that was stoutly championed by Rev. Sullivan. As we think about the health problems of Africa, be they malaria, river blindness or HIV/AIDS, we come to terms with the basic fact that they are all fueled by poverty, ignorance and fear. Today, I will not be talking about all of these problems, as I would like to address a specific issue.

In so many ways, the values that forged and shaped Leon Sullivan's work provide us with the basic tools to combat the problem of disease in Africa. We must educate people; we must provide them with the knowledge of how to prevent and fight disease. When we train them, we must provide them with the skills and know-how to control the conditions and circumstances. We must invest in the society; we must provide the economic power that places modern medical equipment and the latest drugs in hospitals in Africa. The ideals that Leon Sullivan lived for should be the cardinal guiding principles of doing business in Africa.

If there is one single disease that has riveted global attention on Africa, I believe it is HIV/AIDS. This scourge has killed infants, children and adults in large numbers. Twenty years after the first clinical evidence of AIDS, mankind is still dealing with the disease. The statistics of mortality and infection are simply mind-boggling, and they continue to mount by the day. AIDS is the No. 1 killer in Africa today. Available statistics also show that, across the continent, there are 3.4 million infections every year; 2 million to 3 million deaths last year and 28 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy is gradually approaching a century-low of 30 years. (Source: United Nations Report)

The message that AIDS is sending to all of us as government, business or individuals is very clear — the scourge poses a real threat to mankind. We must do something about it — and quickly.

Why We Must All be Concerned as Individuals

We all have known people who have succumbed to this disease. I am committed to fighting HIV/AIDS. I would like to see each of us make that commitment.

We must ask each other: I care, do you?

Why Business Must be Involved

The HIV/AIDS crisis poses one of the greatest challenges ever faced by business globally, especially in Africa.

The epidemic threatens the health, stability and sustainability of the work force. It increases the cost of doing business through its effect on productivity and sustainable cost incurred over health.

Those who die from the disease are our colleagues, friends and, in some cases, relatives. They are real people, people whom we knew and interacted closely with.

As business looking to the future, we are constantly preoccupied with the process of growing a new generation of leaders. Clearly, HIV/AIDS poses the danger of wiping out that generation, and this includes some of our best and brightest talents.

Business is indeed facing the prospect of labor attrition through HIV/AIDS, because the disease primarily strikes people in their 20s to 40s, the most productive segment of the labor force.

Our very survival depends on our ability to control HIV/AIDS in the workplace, thus protecting our most valued assets – the men and women who make our companies what they are. Business must take the lead position in the fight and struggle against HIV/AIDS.

What We Must Do

We must take the business of educating people on how to prevent AIDS as a very serious matter that gets top priority in our various organizations. The education must be delivered in a convincing manner by the leaders of the organization.

In the fight against HIV/AIDS, there should be no competition. Business organizations must team up and share information and best practices to achieve results for the benefit of us all.

We must work proactively with the medical community to evolve ways and strategies to prevent the disease.

We need to plan right and then approach the plan as a business issue through efficient and effective implementation. We must start now. People are dying every day. There has to be urgency in our action.

We must teach our people the right kind of attitude toward those infected. The HIV/AIDS infection must not be used as a factor of discrimination in our workplaces.

Most important, business must take its best practices in the workplace to the rest of the community at large. Let us make an impact with the superior quality we have in house, in terms of financial, technical and human resources.

The Best Practices Approach

The best practices approach was specifically developed under the auspices of the United Nations to check the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The approach is based on a bigger, broader effort founded on partnerships/coalitions of the government and the private and community sectors. Government provides the leadership; the private sector provides the expertise and resources, while the community sector helps to mobilize the society for effective response.

The Nigerian Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS, inaugurated last February by President Olusegun Obasanjo, has made some good progress so far. But we need more participants, and we all need to do more. An important mandate of the coalition is to facilitate the sharing of information among business organizations and to communicate the techniques and strategies that work.

ChevronTexaco's Approach

At ChevronTexaco, we strongly believe that multinational companies have a critical role to play in the global effort to find solutions to HIV/AIDS and other public health issues such as malaria, river blindness and tuberculosis.

As part of our overall commitment to corporate responsibility, we are committed to help address these illnesses in our work forces and in the communities in which we operate.

Our efforts and contributions to the control of HIV/AIDS are based on the premise that it is a preventable disease. We therefore focus on changing attitudes through increased awareness, prevention, voluntary testing, counseling and programs for employees, families and our host communities.

Our anti-retroviral treatment program targeted at pregnant mothers to prevent transmission to the unborn child has recorded a 100 percent success rate.

We work with governments, nongovernment organizations, multilateral organizations and international initiatives, such as the Nigerian Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS, to leverage on external expert methods and share best practices.

ChevronTexaco is a member of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), formed to provide a unified approach to assist in alleviating the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

Our Workplace AIDS Prevention Program here in Nigeria has been cited by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, UNAIDS and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS as a best practice.

ChevronTexaco is also the proud sponsor of A Day in the Life of Africa, a photodocumentary book from which sales profits are being channeled to HIV/AIDS educational and awareness programs in Africa.

The AIDS scourge has caused widespread devastation for about 20 years. It is now time for a joint and collaborative action to fight this pandemic. This war must be fought on all fronts and together in the spirit of the private/public partnership for the overall good of mankind.

Updated: July 2003