Africa's Battle Against HIV/AIDS: Only International Teamwork Can Win

By Jay Pryor, Managing Director
Chevron Nigeria Ltd.

Health, Safety and Environment Conference of the Society of Petroleum Engineers

Calgary, Canada

Thanks, Dr. Barbey [Dr. Alex Barbey, session Chairman, and medical director of Schlumberger]. I've been deeply impressed by what I've heard about your work in medicine and health at Schlumberger and by your leadership as chairman of this conference.

Thanks, also, to all of you attending this gathering. I'm sure I speak for all of us in expressing appreciation to the Society of Petroleum Engineers for once again creating a venue where we can discuss some of our industry's most important issues.

Like most of you in this room, as a petroleum engineering student, I never thought the day would come when I'd be as concerned about health issues – some of the world's most serious health issues, in fact – as I am about drilling and reservoir management. But health and our professional practice have become intimately entwined, as what I am about to say will make painfully clear.

Today, we're focusing on the health problems of Africa. They run a devastating gamut ... from malaria to cholera to river blindness to HIV/AIDS. And like the flipside of the three positive conditions needed for petroleum creation – porosity, permeability and structural traps – Africa's health maladies are created and nurtured by three negative conditions: poverty, ignorance and fear.

Nowhere are these negative conditions more in evidence than for the greatest health scourge of our time – HIV/AIDS.

Actually, I've had the opportunity to speak on this topic a number of times, and I've met many people who feel as passionately about it as I do. But my goal is to stop making these speeches. Because my hope is that we'll see the day when speeches about this horrible disease are no longer necessary.

The good news is that positive signs are beginning to appear. Progress is being made. Working together, businesses, communities, governments and nongovernmental organizations are arming Africa against the disease. They're providing the knowledge and education that increase awareness and help reduce the fear of AIDS; the training and skills that slow its spread; and, most important, the investments that help Africans themselves end poverty as an enabler of AIDS.

I've now lived and worked in Nigeria for the past two years. I've been blessed with the opportunity to visit many parts of Africa. I continue to be astonished by Africa's people and their joyous appetite for life, even under trying circumstances. There is much about Africa that should be more widely shared. I'm thinking of the quiet stories of accomplishment that occur each and every day; the farmer bringing his crops to market to feed his family, the doctor bringing health care to a community, the teacher educating the next generation of leaders. This is the Africa I would like others to know.

But the cries of AIDS victims drown out these good stories; they snuff out the joy. Across Africa, the disease continues to spread, with 3.2 million new infections and more than 2 million deaths just in the past year. For those of us in business, and especially for those of us in the petroleum business in Africa, the HIV/AIDS crisis poses one of the greatest challenges our industry has ever faced.

We are confronted by an epidemic which threatens the health, stability and very existence of our work force. Every day, through its effect on productivity, it increases the cost of doing business. Most troubling, those who die from the disease are our colleagues, our friends and, in some cases, our relatives. They are children. In short, they are real people, people we know.

As businesses looking to the future, we are constantly occupied with the process of developing a new generation of leaders. AIDS derails this process. It claims some of our best and brightest talents. For all of these reasons, business must lead the fight against AIDS.

But what can business do? First, we must give the highest priority to educating people on how to prevent AIDS. This must be personally supported by the leaders of the organization.

In the fight against AIDS, there should be no competition. Business organizations must share information and best practices so that the greatest benefits reach the greatest number of people. We must work proactively with medical and healthcare professionals to develop strategies to prevent infection. We must implement these strategies just as we would a good business plan, efficiently and effectively.

We must educate our own people too. The HIV/AIDS infection must not be allowed to become a tool of discrimination in our work places. Most important, business must export its best workplace practices to the communities around us. To this end, we must fully engage our financial, technical and human resources.

The best practices approach to combating AIDS, developed with the United Nations' support, is based on partnerships and coalitions that combine government, private and community contributions. Government provides the leadership, the private sector provides expertise and resources, and communities engage and mobilize people.

Effective prevention programs can work. In Uganda, the HIV prevalence rate fell by more than half between the early 1990s and 2001. According to the U.N., rates dropped significantly among teenage girls, a key group because they are more likely than teenage boys to have older, infected partners. Condom use by 13- to 19-year-old girls tripled between 1994 and 1997, the U.N. reported.

In Senegal, the adult HIV prevalence rate remains at about 1 percent, perhaps the lowest on the continent. The U.N. ascribed Senegal's low levels of infection to the relatively late onset of sexual activity, limited extramarital sex, the use of condoms and effective programs to treat sexually transmitted diseases. Especially important: active and open engagement of the country's leadership. Senegal's first AIDS cases were identified in 1986. By 1987, the government had launched a national blood screening program.

In Nigeria, the Nigerian Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS – inaugurated last February by President Olusegun Obasanjo and an organization I am proud to co-chair – has made good progress. An important coalition mandate is to help share successful strategies and techniques.

At ChevronTexaco, we believe that multinational companies have a critical role to play in finding solutions to AIDS and other public health issues. Our goal in confronting AIDS is to stop the disease before it happens, that is, to prevent infection.

We focus on changing attitudes through increased education and awareness and through voluntary testing. We sponsor counseling programs for our employees, their families and our host communities. Our strategy is designed to build upon small successes a step at a time.

In Angola and Nigeria, for example, ChevronTexaco medical departments use confidential counseling, testing and ARV's [Antiretroviral prophylaxis] to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of AIDS. Additionally, since securing a dependable source of antiretrovirals, our company now supplies these drugs in Angola and Nigeria, administered by health professionals, to HIV-positive employees and their family members. This also helps build local capacity and sustainable programs for others to access.

This year, ChevronTexaco expects to provide some 12,000 pregnant women in Angola's Cabinda Province with HIV tests and medication in order to substantially reduce mother-to-child transmission by administering short-course antiretroviral drugs in the last weeks of pregnancy or at delivery, and by changing breastfeeding practices in HIV-infected women. So far, I'm pleased to say, our efforts have achieved 100 percent success in preventing mother-to-child transmission. A separate project, a company-sponsored blood bank in Cabinda, has reduced the number of blood-caused HIV cases from 25 percent to 1 percent.

Such success stories would never be possible without one common element: collaboration. For example, in December, 2003, nine global companies, including ChevronTexaco, with operations in developing countries announced that we will use our facilities, employees and other infrastructure to expand work-place AIDS prevention and treatment where we operate.

In Angola, ChevronTexaco's affiliate last year began a comprehensive AIDS program for its national employees. And in southern and central Africa, Caltex – ChevronTexaco's retail marketing affiliate – has developed an AIDS strategy for both employees and the surrounding communities.

I said earlier that some that some evidence suggests sub-Saharan Africa's battle against AIDS may be turning a corner, or at least stabilizing. According to the U.N., there are signs that effective prevention is reducing infection rates, although these rates are still much, much too high.

Most encouraging is the growing political support and commitment of resources by leaders around the world. About $4.7 billion was spent on AIDS in low- and middle-income countries this year, compared with only $200 million in 1996. This year alone, the U.S. Congress is expected to approve $2.4 billion to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. Another $2.1 billion has been committed to the multilateral global fund to fight AIDS and other diseases. And the World Health Organization has announced a plan to provide AIDS-prevention drugs to 3 million people by the end of 2005, the so-called "3 by 5" plan.

The fight against HIV/AIDS is far from won. But I believe such coalitions – coalitions that unite private enterprise, public leadership and common purpose – are our best hope.

For a generation, Africa has reeled under the AIDS assault. It is heartening that, acting jointly, we're now fighting back and seeing the first glimmers of success. Those successes tell us that education, awareness and prevention – supported by the commitment and resources of business, governments and communities – can effectively combat poverty, ignorance and fear. They also tell us that in partnership we can and will defeat the AIDS apocalypse.

Thank you.

Updated: March 2004