Interview: Dr. Huma Abbasi on Chevron’s investment in AIDS programs

I had a chance to interview Dr. Huma Abbasi, Chevron general manager of corporate health and medical, on Chevron’s HIV/AIDS policies and programs. Chevron has been battling AIDS for 25 years. It was the first oil and gas company to institute a global HIV/AIDS policy for employees in 2005, and since then, the company has been at the forefront of a global movement committed to a single-minded purpose: the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Abassi shares with us specifics of the company’s work to provide care for its employees, fight stigma within its workforce, and its partnerships and investments with multilateral organizations like mothers2mothers and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Erin Hohlfelder: How did you and your team decide that investing in AIDS and PMTCT specifically was a good business decision for Chevron?  Did you encounter any pushback along the way?
Dr. Abbasi: Some of our largest operations are located where the grip of AIDS is the strongest, and if we are to have a healthy business in these parts of the world, we need healthy employees and healthy communities.

20110121-KY-4034Thanks to PMTCT, Bethwel and his wife, who are both HIV-positive, were able to have a baby boy who is HIV-free. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ ONE.

Chevron has been in the fight against HIV/AIDS for 25 years. We were the first oil and gas company to implement a global AIDS policy for our employees in 2005. The policy guarantees that all Chevron employees are provided with a consistent approach to combating the disease, which includes peer education and awareness programs, and assures that any employee or dependent suffering from the virus will have access to treatment. We also support programs and partnerships to address HIV/AIDS for our communities. As a mother, I can understand how child and maternal health programs are crucial for elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission and of utmost importance to the communities where we work and live.

Within our efforts to address HIV/AIDS, we recognize that preventing transmission of the virus from mother-to-child as both a critical intervention for the families of our employees, as well as a realistic approach to the elimination of HIV entirely.

Watch this video submitted as part of a contest sponsored by Chevron on Zooppa.com for World AIDS Day.

That’s why we have joined UNAIDS, PEPFAR and other world leaders in the goal to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keep their mothers alive.  It’s also why we launched new partnerships in July 2012 with Pact, mothers2mothers and the Business Leadership Council, focused on eradicating mother-to-child transmission of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.

Your results on preventing mother-to-child transmission in Nigeria and Angola are incredibly impressive. What have you learned from your work in those two countries that you think is replicable and scalable, inside and outside of the private sector?
Our success is resultant of comprehensive programs and treatment we provide to our employees and their dependents. We’ve implemented programs through which Chevron clinicians educate employees, establishing a culture that encourages testing and treatment, fights stigma against HIV and provides comprehensive medical care for employees and their qualified dependents.

Through our Workplace Wellness Program in Nigeria, we provide HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis training and education for employees of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  Although many large businesses in Nigeria have begun offering HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services to employees, the vast majority of SMEs – which make up 70 to 80 percent of businesses in Nigeria – have not.  This peer education program includes training for employees as well as members of their communities.

Are you linking your work up to broader conversations with the Nigerian and Angolan governments about how they are investing their oil wealth back into health services?
We build programs based on real collaboration with our partners and with colleagues in government.  We design and implement programs in such a way as to encourage leadership by government partners in Africa, which we regard as an indispensable ingredient for success.  These partnerships build local capacity for longer-term, sustainable progress in the fight against AIDS.  And, this approach is supported by the US Global Health Initiative, which has implemented policies emphasizing country ownership.

As a medical doctor, are there personal stories or memories from the field that stand out in your mind?
In one of my recent visits to Angola, I was deeply touched when one of the senior officials from local government complimented the Chevron clinical staff for their expertise, professionalism and dedication and requested that we come and share our expertise with their local Angolan hospitals. This was great recognition for Chevron’s medical staff.

What do you think, at a more macro level, the private sector’s role and comparative advantage is in improving health in sub-Saharan Africa?
As an active member of our communities, we are able to leverage our assets and resources to provide education, raise awareness, and increase access to treatment to our employees and our communities.

For example, we work with local partners in Dunoon, South Africa established the Dunoon Community Home-Based Care Center to meet the needs of home-bound AIDS patients. Run by women from the community, the center provides meals to 450 community members per week. The partnership offers project management training to all who work there, enabling the center to be run by the community for the community.

To learn more about Chevron’s HIV/AIDS work, please visit: http://www.chevron.com/aids/. On World AIDS Day, follow @Chevron on Twitter and use #WorldAIDSDay to join the conversation. To learn more about why AIDS is going to lose, check out these videos inspired by World AIDS Day.