Public health advocates urge Global Fund to end Heineken partnership

Concerned over a new partnership between the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and Heineken, three public health networks have recently sent an open joint letter to the Global Fund. They point out the dangers inherent in partnerships with the producers and marketers of hazardous products such as alcohol.

«Partnerships with the alcohol industry are laden with inherent conflicts of interest.«

The joint letter followed the announcement during the Davos World Economic Forum in late January of a partnership in which the Global Fund will use Heineken logistics for reaching healthcare facilities and patients in remote areas. IOGT International, NCD Alliance and the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) wrote the critical letter which is endorsed by a number of other public health organisations including alcohol policy alliances in Southern, East and West Africa.

Inherent conflict of interest

While they recognizes the value of partnerships to work for sustainable development, the three organisations write to “voice our deep concern with the newly announced partnership with Heineken, and to respectfully urge you to immediately end this partnership.” They point out that alcohol is a major risk factor for both TB and HIV/AIDS, and it is increasingly recommended that alcohol policy best buy interventions be part of the responses to both epidemics.

The letter is signed by Kristina Sperkova, President of IOGT International, Katie Dain, CEO of the NCD Alliance and Sally Casswell, Chair of GAPA. They claim “Partnerships with the alcohol industry are laden with inherent conflicts of interest. Transnational corporations producing and aggressively marketing alcohol rely on the harmful use of alcohol for their sales and profits”.

The letter refers to South Africa where a recent research study showed 90% of alcohol was consumed in harmful alcohol use occasions. “This underpins the conflict of interest, which leads companies such as Heineken to undermine and subvert evidence-based alcohol policy implementation at the same time as they expand distribution networks and marketing to grow their market in low-and middle-income countries.”

Global Fund

The Global Fund was founded in 2002 as a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases. It raises and invests nearly US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in countries heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

In reply to questions from the The Guardian, Peter Sands who announced the partnership with Heineken said “The Global Fund is a strong believer in the power of public-private partnerships in order to accelerate progress.” Mr Sands is the incoming executive director of the Global Fund.

In the letter, the three organisations point out that “A partnership such as this with the Global Fund is of great value to Heineken. It redirects attention from the costs of harmful use of alcohol and positions Heineken to governments, the public and the global community as a legitimate partner in implementing sustainable development solutions, while at the same time their lobbying organization was actively working to prevent implementation of effective alcohol policies.”

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