Protesters in U.S., Abroad Urge Coca-Cola to Provide Antiretroviral Treatment to Workers in Africa
Several AIDS groups, including the Health GAP Coalition and the Student Global AIDS Campaign, protested outside of Coca-Cola offices in several major U.S. cities yesterday, urging the company to provide treatment to all of its employees in Africa. Protesters led rallies in Atlanta; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Milwaukee and San Francisco. Demonstrations were also scheduled to be held on a dozen U.S. college campuses and in more than 14 foreign countries as part of the "Global Day of Protest Against Coca-Cola" (Health GAP Colaition/Student Global AIDS Campaign release, 10/14). In New York, protestors organized by ACT UP/New York "piled up dozens of fake body bags" and "poured red liquid from the company's signature two-liter bottles" outside of the company's Manhattan office (Kalita, Long Island Newsday, 10/18). Protestors elsewhere carried fake coffins as part of a moving graveyard to signify that Coca-Cola is "putting its profits over lives" by limiting the scope of the company's HIV/AIDS treatment program. (Health GAP Coalition/Student Global AIDS Campaign release, 10/14).
Coke's Treatment Initiative
Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, PharmAccess International and Population Services International announced on Sep. 26 that they will launch an HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment program at 40 bottling companies in Africa. Through existing employee health benefits programs, participating bottlers will offer workers and their spouses access to prevention materials, voluntary counseling, HIV testing and antiretroviral drug treatment. The program will be implemented over the next 12 months in 19 countries and will be expanded to 37 other countries in its second year. Coca-Cola will pay half of the cost of the plan, and the bottlers will cover about 40% of the cost of the program. Employees will contribute 10% toward the cost of any treatment provided under the program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/27). However, AIDS advocates object to the plan, saying that the employee copaymant for treatment is too high and "will prove to be a barrier to access" to medicines. AIDS groups have also criticized the company for not extending the treatment coverage to the families and dependents of workers other than spouses. The organizations are "demand[ing]" that Coca-Cola provide HIV/AIDS treatment free of charge to African employees and their dependents and incorporate "comprehensive HIV/AIDS policies and programs" -- including antiretroviral treatment -- in the company's standard operations in Africa, "not as a short-term charitable initiative" sponsored by its foundation (Health GAP Coalition/Student Global AIDS Campaign release, 10/14). Coca-Cola yesterday in a statement defended its policy and "reiterate[ed] a commitment to HIV/AIDS education" (Long Island Newsday, 10/18).