International Health campaigners condemn Global Fund alliance with Heineken

Global Health NGOs and alcohol concern groups have criticized the recent alliance between Global Fund, a government, civil society and private sector group that fights the spread of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa with Heineken Group, an alcohol firm.

In a letter sent to Global Fund, an alliance of over 2,000 health organisations decried the move and said the partnership with Heineken would only help the beer firm expand its marketing reach.

“Transnational corporations producing and aggressively marketing alcohol rely on the harmful use of alcohol for their sales and profits,” the letter said.

The health organisations accused firms like Heineken of undermining and subverting 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”.

“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.”

“We shouldn’t see this as some kind of legitimate partner in sustainable development or global health. It’s a double standard for an institution focusing on HIV, TB and malaria to be building partnerships with companies and industries that contribute to the burden of these diseases, particularly in Africa.”

“We therefore respectfully request that you end the partnership with Heineken and that you take our concerns into consideration when … exploring future partnerships,” they wrote.

According to the partnership agreement, Heineken, the world’s no. 2 beer company, is expected to assist Global Fund with logistics of reaching healthcare facilities and patients in hard-to-reach places, and to “further advance a common goal” of fighting diseases in Africa.

Global Fund is a $4bn a year quasi government, civil society and private sector partnership that fights diseases globally. It recently announced similar partnerships with consumer goods companies Unilever and Swiss bank Lombard Odier.

The Fund said in a statement: “The Global Fund is a strong believer in the power of public-private partnerships in order to accelerate progress,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director, Global Fund.

“We are particularly excited to leverage the expertise of Heineken as we develop innovative tools and approaches that will promote HIV prevention and behaviour change. We also look forward to sharpening our logistics planning skills to better support our implementing partners’ efforts to deliver health services and commodities wherever they are needed. These two efforts are vital to improving health and wellbeing in Africa.”

Heineken CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer said: “Heineken has been present in Africa for over 100 years, and saw first-hand the severity of the Aids epidemic on communities. We provided employees with voluntary testing for HIV and treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, among others, from the start.

“We continue to do this today and recognise there is still a lot to do. Evolving our partnership with the Global Fund will allow us to work together in order to end these epidemics in Africa.”

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