Coca-Cola to Use Drink Distribution Network for HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment MaterialsCoca-Cola Co. plans to contribute its "massive distribution system and marketing muscle" to HIV/AIDS prevention and testing efforts in Africa, the Wall Street Journal reports. Coca-Cola and UNAIDS today are scheduled to announce a partnership that "will involve everything from lending marketing executives to AIDS organizations to ... possibly condoms on Coke delivery trucks" (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 6/20). The effort will be jointly run by Coca-Cola's not-for-profit arm, the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, and UNAIDS. As Africa's largest private employer, Coca-Cola believes that its "fabled advertising reach" will enable the company to distribute pamphlets, testing equipment and other information to health groups and individuals across the continent. Robert Lindsay, vice president of public affairs for the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, said that the company plans to provide assistance to a youth education project in Zambia, boost marketing for anti-AIDS efforts in Nigeria and aid in the distribution of testing kits. UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said of the partnership, "The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation brings substantial resources to the international battle against AIDS. Coca-Cola Africa's special strength is its ability to bring its unrivaled marketing and logistics expertise to respond to the epidemic -- from the community to the highest political level" (Melvin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/20). Coca-Cola did not say how much money it plans to invest in the effort (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/20). Although Coca-Cola is considering making a financial contribution to fight the epidemic, it has not decided whether it will contribute to the global AIDS fund proposed in April by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Although some AIDS activists applauded Coca-Cola's effort, others criticized the company for "delay[ing]" the project, which AIDS groups had been urging the company to adopt for several years. Eric Sawyer, an activist with ACT/UP-New York, also criticized the project's focus on prevention, stating that the company should also help to increase access to anti-AIDS drugs. "Getting prevention and education out is a first-line priority, but people need to know there are treatments available to extend their lives," he said. Coca-Cola does cover the cost of anti-AIDS drugs for its 1,500 employees and their families, and is considering extending drug coverage to the "thousands" of workers at its African bottling plants, "who suffer from the disease at a higher rate."
Greater Business Participation
UNAIDS officials hope that Coca-Cola's involvement in fighting AIDS will spur other corporations to join the battle. "Coke has such a big and influential name. In many countries, I think there will be quite an impact. We're hoping this partnership will set a tone for others," Piot said. The Wall Street Journal reports that "corporate involvement in Africa's AIDS crisis is slowly building," with DaimlerChrysler AG and Unilever PLC recently announcing efforts to fight the epidemic. The Coca-Cola/UNAIDS partnership is "among a number" of corporate efforts that the United Nations and UNAIDS plan to announce before the special U.N. General Assembly session on HIV/AIDS next week (Wall Street Journal, 6/20).