New USAID/GHARP – Private Sector Coalition signals greater business community commitment to fighting HIV/AIDSFriday, May 30, 2008 – 12:04 pm
Source: Stabroek News
The United States-funded Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Project (USAID/GHARP) has taken a important step towards consolidating its coalition with the local private sector to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis by announcing the launch of the new Guyana Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS.
What is perhaps most significant about the launch of the Coalition is that it reflects trhe preparedness of a large and influential section of the local business community to move to the next level – so to speak – by setting up a formal institution to help respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. The gesture suggests that at least some of the major business houses in Guyana and the movers and shakers in their board rooms are seized of the significance of the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to the business community.
The launch of the new Business Coalition is a logical corollary to the relationship established three years ago between GHARP and sections of the local business community to help provide a private sector dimension to the national HIV/AIDS response. In this context GHARP can take a good deal of credit for helping the private sector forge ahead of the public sector in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Promises of funding from the public treasury to help finance a structured public sector workplace response appear not to have materialized up to this time and while there has been evidence of efforts to establish HIV/AIDS committees at some public sector workplaces the Ministry of Labour itself has admitted that weak workplace Occupational Safety and Health regimes and the seeming indifference – in many cases – of senior public servants to the importance of workplace programmes have militated against effective HIV/AIDS workplace initiatives. Last year. For example, local Occupational Safety and Health officials quietly expressed their disappointment over the fact that that senior public officers had all but boycotted what was intended to be an important policy-related forum of HIV/AIDS and the workplace, opting instead to be represented by functionaries at the level of Administrative Assistant and Accounts Clerk.
Where the GHRAP initiative differs is that it has been able to get the attention of some of the ‘captains of industry.’ Some of the key leaders of the business community who can influence a WIDER private sector response at the levels of organizations like the Private Sector Commission and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, umbrella organizations who members include many of the country’s small and medium-sized businesses who employees will benefit from structured HIV/AIDS workplace programmes.
The genesis of the new coalition lies in a memorandum of understanding signed between GHARP and twenty two private sector entities three years ago at a ceremony where most of those entities were represented at the levels of Managing Directors, Chief Executive Officers and Deputy Chief Executive Officers. It is the same sense of awareness of the importance of a robust private sector HIV/AIDS response that informs the composition of the Board of Directors of the new Guyana Business Coalition. The Board is chaired Scotia Bank Country Manager and includes GT&T Deputy General Manager Terry Holder, Clinton Williama, Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana National Industrial Corporation and Clifford Reis, Chief Executive Officer of Banks DIH Ltd. What GHARP is acutely aware of is the advantage of going directly to the top in an effort to facilitate more expeditious decision-making.
The accomplishments of USAID/GHARP and its partners in the business sector up to this time are modest given the magnitude of the overall task but significant nonetheless. Up to this time 28,000 private sector workers have been offered training WHILE 16 local companies have developed structured HIV/AIDS workplace policies. The initiative has also helped private sector workplaces to secure linkages to related services including including, crucially, voluntary counseling and testing.
What the new Guyana Business Coalition seeks to do is to consolidate the initiatives that GHARP has taken along with its private sector partners. If it is to do, the planned high-profile launch of the Coalition this evening at the International Conference Center has to be followed by a great deal of hard work to overcome challenges including some that were ventilated at its press conference last Tuesday, What the Coalition cannot be faulted for is a list of stated objective which seeks to realize a quantum leap in the private sector response to HIV/AIDS. It seeks, it says, to provide workers in the private sector with readier access to to services such as workplace training, workplace policy development and implementation, developing in-house communication material and campaigns, and peer education. The Coalition says that it will also be seeking to encourage partners to go beyond the workplace – like companies like Scotia Bank, GT&T and others have done – to engage in community and nation-level activities that link with and support their own inhouse activities. The Coalition has also committed itself to strengthening co-operation with the public sector – the truth is that the public sector can use the help – as well as other agencies and international business coalitions concerned with HIV/AIDS at the workplace.
What becomes readily apparent in the objectives of the Coalition is the readiness of its member companies to assign human and material resources ia their HIV/AIDS response, a sign that they have clearly grasped the significance of that response to their own “bottom line.” And in the cases of companies like Scotia Bank and GT&T it is clearly a question of taking advantage of a captive audience that goes far beyond the workplace to support a wider national response to HIV/AIDS that is still moving in fits and starts.