Beverage Company Diageo Pledges To Provide Antiretroviral Drugs to HIV-Positive Employees in Africa
British-based beverage company Diageo has announced that it will provide antiretroviral drugs to any of the company's approximately 5,000 employees in Africa who need the medications, London's Guardian reports. Diageo, which produces Guinness beer and Smirnoff vodka, among other drink products, said that all of its HIV-positive African employees and their families will be offered antiretrovirals for life, even if their employment is terminated or "made redundant," according to the Guardian. John Kemp, head of Diageo Africa, said that the decision to provide the drugs was made for both humanitarian and commercial reasons. Kemp said, "Some of our colleagues have died from this disease and frankly that is sufficient stimulation for us to take action. There are also commercial reasons, because these people are our employees and our consumers." Kemp said that he did not know how many Diageo employees in Africa are HIV-positive, but he added that he expects the number to be consistent with local rates, according to the Guardian. The Diageo program will cost "many millions" of dollars, according to CEO Paul Walsh. Diageo will seek assistance from nongovernmental organizations in every country in which it operates to help implement the antiretroviral plan, Kemp said. Although the cost of providing generic versions of antiretrovirals costs approximately $300 per person annually, administering the drugs and monitoring patients for life makes treatment even more expensive. The Diageo program is not the first corporate-backed antiretroviral distribution program in Africa. The mining conglomerate Anglo-American and diamond producer De Beers have each set up similar programs. The World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres on Wednesday at the 13th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, issued a report that said antiretroviral drugs are distributed to only about 1% of Africans who need them (Finch, Guardian, 9/23).
PRI's "The World" on Thursday interviewed Peter Stewart, Diageo special projects manager for external affairs, about the company's decision to provide antiretroviral drugs to its HIV-positive African employees (Mullins, "The World," PRI, 9/25). The full segment is available online in Windows Media.