May 16, 2013
Against the backdrop of a looming deadline to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of HIV/AIDS (EMTCT) by the end of 2015, panelists focused on their public-private initiatives in Nigeria, where one third of new HIV infections in children are occurring. Nigeria has set its aim high and is engaging in innovative partnerships, including with a set of nontraditional, private sector players. Chevron, the Business Leadership Council for a Generation Born HIV-Free (BLC), and Pact, an NGO, are working with Nigeria's Ministry of Health to dramatically scale up of EMTCT services.
The panel delved into the partnership experiences among the government, non-profit and private sector players in the Nigerian state of Bayelsa, where pregnant women are being tested and treated in antenatal clinics. The session examined factors related to the program’s success and how to apply lessons learned to strengthen programs elsewhere.
Moderator Rhonda Zygocki, executive vice president of policy and planning at Chevron, said her company committed $20-million last year towards achieving an HIV-free generation in Angola, Nigeria and South Africa. With a business presence in Nigeria spanning 100 years, she said Chevron had felt “the brunt of this disease on our workforce.” “It’s a business issue as much as it is a social issue for us,” she said, adding that the company’s business success was directly linked to the welfare and vitality of the community in which it operates.
Several panelists spoke of the vital role played by Dr. Muhammed Ali Pate, Nigerian minister of state for health, in bringing credibility and local buy-in to the program. Where Dr. Pate went, others tended to follow, they said. Pate in turn commended the private sector efforts. “We are fortunate in Nigeria. We have really visionary corporate leaders engaged in this agenda, working to complement what government is trying to do,” he said. “We are making progress, we have saved lives,” he said. He noted that the collaboration had enabled the program to achieve more in the past six months than in preceding years, with nearly 20,000 women accessing PMTCT in 71 facilities.
Pate described Nigeria’s complex health system, where the private sector provides half of the country’s health services. Key, he said, was an understanding of the local market. Pate cautioned business leaders not to neglect other challenges facing developing countries, including malnutrition and low immunization rates. “Not all of these [health problems] have such big champions at the global level,” he said.
John Megrue, CEO of Apax Partners, spoke about the new Business Leadership Council for a Generation Born HIV-Free (BLC) that is supporting the Nigerian government’s EMTCT efforts. Asked why he had devoted himself to the cause of EMTCT, Mergue, who is the BLC’s chair, said he had taken a “business-oriented approach” in focusing on this area. “There are so many great causes but I wanted to find something doable,” he said. Along with the many other stakeholders involved in EMTCT, the private sector could play a catalytic role, he said. A no-nonsense business approach of “deciding to do something and then just doing it” was helping the program to succeed, he added. “The AIDS crisis cannot end without a generation born HIV-free.”
Ben Plumley, CEO of Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation which is measuring and evaluating EMTCT efforts, said there had been disappointments in the fight against HIV, including the elusive search for a vaccine and a microbicidal gel. Echoing Megrue he said: “But something like EMTCT is something we can do. It helps us to build the cadres we need to turn HIV on the defensive.” He cautioned against the tendency to view a new generation born HIV-free as the only goal, however. “We are in this for the long haul. We are going to be doing this work for the next 20, 30 years.” Achieving the goal of an HIV-free child was just one part of the equation, Plumley added. For that child to flourish and for the mother to get care and support were equally important.
Helping community workers to create demand proved key in getting pregnant women into the program, said Mark Viso, president and CEO of the NGO Pact. Pact is partnering with Chevron to build uptake and demand for PMTCT services at the grassroots level, train community workers and build sustainable technical capacity. Viso said that transportation had been a challenge but that Pact had worked with the Ministry of Health to provide free rides to antenatal clinics, where women are tested, treated and tracked. In his assessment of why the program was working, he said: “It takes all of us. None of us has all that it takes.” He said partnerships brought a “galvanizing force” that made the seemingly impossible happen. Key, he added, was finding local solutions. They may take longer to put in place but they lasted, he said.