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Can Heineken become distribution support of health services and products without promoting itself?

The alcohol industry has done it yet again. DAVOS-2018, the platform for big business access to governments, was used to announce a partnership between the Global Fund (combatting HIV AIDS, TB and malaria) and brewing giant Heineken. Heineken – the very same company exposed in Olivier van Beemen’s book, Heineken in Africa, to have relationships with authoritarian governments, tax evasion, human rights violations and corruption will now provide logistical and communication support to the Global Fund.

In the scramble for Africa, Heineken seem to have outsmarted its competitors and continues it’s ‘narrative’ of “Africa as a continent full of obstacles and barriers - such as unreliable infrastructure…” to further consolidate its presence on the continent. Currently Diageo through its brand, Johnnie Walker, is marching through Africa with its marketing and CSI campaign proclaiming partnerships from education to addressing GBV. Meanwhile,(AB InBev) SAB has partnered with the City of Johannesburg proclaiming that they will contribute to reducing alcohol consumption and harm and last year they claimed that they would help fight hunger by launching a special 8-pack… Heineken’s securing of a partnership with the Global Fund, one of the major health and development donors and interventions in the world, have offered alcohol Corporate Social Responsibility interventions the opportunity to infiltrate the heart of a global response to three of the major epidemics that threaten development and taken it to a whole new level.

In 2012 Richard Matzopoulos, Prof. Leslie London and Dr. Sue Goldstein and others raised concern about the conflict of interest about the then partnership between the Global Fund and SAB. Nothing seems to have changed. The situation is also not helped by the global discourse and the uncritical acceptance within the UN community that big business, with few exceptions (the arms trade, sex and tobacco industries) is an accepted and necessary partner for development. Although there is acceptance that all stakeholders have a role to promote and contribute to development, it is not acceptable that big business have a seat at the table to make decisions on how that development unfolds. A seat at the table gives big business an advantage and privileged access that they can use in pursuit of their profit-driven agenda. A seat at the table means that big business can steer development to suit the needs of their companies, identify new business opportunities for themselves and prevent development that threatens their chances of making profit.

The blur between alcohol distribution and marketing on the one hand, and health and development on the other, is fast disappearing. Does this mean Heineken will now deliver condoms in their branded vehicles? How soon will “Heineken condoms” reach our shelves and streets? How will we distinguish between a Heineken marketing campaign and a campaign addressing TB and HIV and malaria?

Public health researcher and board member of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, Prof. Charles Parry who is based at the South African Medical Research Council is outraged, “There is a strong causal linkage between alcohol use and both the acquisition of TB and HIV and in the progression of these two diseases. Epidemiological and other evidence indicates that heavy alcohol use constitutes a particular risk. There is also emerging data to suggest that the profitability of companies that manufacture beer is dependent on having a substantial proportion of drinkers who drink heavily. The liquor industry through marketing and other practices is thus in part contributing to the problem of heavy alcohol use and the resultant burden in terms of TB and HIV and also benefiting from sales, and now they want to get credit for helping to clean up the mess?” There is a very real risk that the association between Heineken and the Global Fund will send the wrong message to the very beneficiaries of the intervention and threaten gains of the past 20 years in the treatment and eradication of TB.

“According to the WHO, more than one in 25 deaths globally are attributable to alcohol consumption. Harmful alcohol use is linked to mental and behavioral disorders, liver damage, and some cancers. Just as it would seem unconscionable to have Philip Morris partner with the Global Fund, so too should a Heineken partnership raise alarm,” says Mark Heywood, Executive Director of SECTION27 and former Deputy Chairperson of SANAC.

As people living with HIV and AIDS, researchers, academics and practitioners in public health, we call on the Global Fund, the South African National AIDS Council and South African government to act ethically and in the interests of public health and withdraw from this partnership immediately. We call on the UN to consider conflict of interest as a serious threat to its stated objectives and reconsider involvement of big business in decision making platforms.

Yours sincerely

Philip Chimponda
Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance

Prof Charles Parry
Director: Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit
South African Medical Research Council
Board Member: Global Alcohol Policy Alliance

Prof Leslie London
Head:  Division of Public Health Medicine
School of Public Health and Family Medicine
University of Cape Town

Dr Sue Goldstein
Senior Executive: Programmes
Soul City

Mark Heywood
Executive Director

Julius Phelane
General Secretary
Blue Cross South Africa

Johanna Kistner
Executive Director/Clinical Psychologist
Sophiatown Community Psychological Services

Adam Papani Mabunda
Mopani Farmers Association

Tsepo Matubatuba
Yeoville Bellevue Ratepayers Association

Desmond D'Sa
Communities Building Credible Organisation (CBCO)

Avin Bhola
Executive Director/ Chairman
Kwenzokuhle Community Organisation

Fiona Nicholson
Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Program (TVEP)

Dr Naidoo
Chief Specialist/ Head of Discipline
Public health Medicine
School of Nursing and Public health
University of Kwa Zulu Natal

Prof Kebogile Mokwena (personal capacity)
HOD: Public Health
Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University
Member of the International Commission for prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Prof Lehmann
Director: School of Public Health
University of Western Cape

Prof Chirwa
Head: School of Public Health
University of Witwatersrand

Prof Landon Myer
Head and Director
School of Public Health and Family Medicine
University of Cape Town

Dr Andre Rose
Public Health Association of South Africa

For more information contact
Aadielah Maker Diedericks on 0823388308
Maurice Smithers on 0823737705

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