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World AIDS Day 2015 – on the fast-track to end AIDS

Dr Stefaan Van der Borght – a world-class HIV/AIDS expert and the newly appointed Head of Health at Anglo American – explains why we need the support of every business and employee to end the AIDS epidemic.

Every year, on December 1, we come together to reflect and reinforce our commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Not only is this a priority for every business and citizen, but it is a core part of the international development agenda. Recently, when our chief executive, Mark Cutifani, confirmed our support for the Sustainable Development Goals, HIV/AIDS was one of the key challenges he addressed.

As he said then – and as I echo now – businesses must focus their efforts on the areas where we will have the most impact, if we are to ensure we are true partners in the future for our host countries. The health of our employees is one of those areas.

This is a topic which is close to my heart. I’ve witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, the sickness and deaths of friends and colleagues. I’ve also witnessed the transformative effect that a private employer can have.

That’s why I’m proud to be joining Anglo American – a business that has historically had steadfast support for HIV/AIDS awareness, as well as free testing and treatment for all of our employees and their dependants. These initiatives have made a real difference, particularly in South Africa, and I believe it is a model for the private sector. Indeed, recent research has shown that such a programme is not only cost-saving for the employer, but may provide respite to the strained resources of large-scale public sector programmes.

Targeting the end of the epidemic

HIV is a global challenge. In different degrees, this epidemic has touched every country where our business operates – and arguably, every business in the world. While we can, and should, be proud of the progress we have made as a global community, we can do more. According to the UN, we can end the epidemic by 2030. But if we are to reach that goal we need to fast-track our efforts, to meet the initial targets set by UNAIDS for 2020.

Anglo American stands behind these 2020 targets, envisioning a world in which 90% of the global population know their status, 90% of people infected with HIV receive anti-retroviral (ART) treatment, and 90% of those on treatment show undetectable levels of the virus. At Anglo American, we are on track, but there are still challenges that we must resolve, both within our business and as partners with governments and citizens.

This includes tackling the co-infection of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) a deadly combination. It also includes changes to testing and treatment. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its treatment guidelines, encouraging earlier testing and even suggesting that people in high risk conditions take preventative drugs. We have the medical expertise to deliver these changes, but it takes the willpower of governments, business and communities to make it happen.

What individuals can do

Business has a big role to play. But let’s not forget how we – as colleagues, families, and communities – can build resilience against the disease in our everyday.

There are simple things individuals can do to help end the epidemic by 2030: If you don’t know your status, get tested at regular intervals. If you are HIV-positive, commit to ongoing treatment programmes and medical advice with rigour. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, talk with your family and your community. As children, parents, and siblings, let’s tell each other how to stay healthy and infection free. Communication can be our greatest prevention tool.

Looking to the future

In 2000, I attended the International AIDS Conference in Durban. The theme of the conference – ‘Breaking the Silence’ – introduced the need for equal access to medication and it fundamentally changed the way we tackle AIDS. It was the first AIDS conference held in Africa and it put a human face to the epidemic. Looking back, we can say that considerable progress has been made. Many lives have been saved, and social and economic disasters have been averted.

Next year, the world has the chance to do it again when the International AIDS Conference returns to Durban. Anglo American will be at the table as part of the private sector reference group, working to be part of the solution and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

The world needs the support and personal commitment of every one of us to help end HIV/AIDS. If we work together, and take personal responsibility for our own health, we can make this epidemic a thing of our past – not of our future.

Discover more about our approach to HIV/AIDS in our dedicated World AIDS Day page.

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