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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 26, 2003
2:01 PM
CONTACT:  Health GAP
Asia Russell 267-475-2645 or Sharonann Lynch 212-674-9598
Coke's AIDS in Africa Program: Fizzles at 6 Months

 
NEW YORK - March 26 - [ Problems are outlined in this letter sent to Coca-Cola CEO Douglas Daft on March 26 2003, 6 months after Coke first announced its initiative to make affordable AIDS treatment to its vast workforce in Africa ]

Douglas Daft, President
The Coca-Cola Company
P.O. box 1734
Atlanta, GA 30301

Re: 6 Months and Counting: Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and Bottlers in Africa HIV/AIDS Healthcare Program

Dear Mr. Daft:

Health GAP writes this letter: (1) to report continued deficits in the planning and rollout of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and Bottlers in Africa HIV/AIDS Healthcare Program; (2) to demand on-going status reports and updates of operational outcomes; and (3) to request a direct meeting with yourself and other high ranking corporate executives to discuss our concerns in person.

As you know, in June of 2001, during the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, Coca-Cola announced efforts in to combat AIDS in Africa in partnership with UNAIDS. Among the marketing and prevention initiatives announced was a plan to provide or pay for treatment of employees living with HIV/AIDS. Pressed by members of the media to differentiate between the 1,200 direct employees versus 100,000 workers of the Coca-Cola system, Coca-Cola representatives agreed to negotiate with its business and bottling partners to provide access to AIDS treatment to the entire Coca-Cola Africa workforce.

Beginning in April of 2002, Health GAP and other treatment activists launched a worldwide campaign against Coca-Cola for its failure to provide a comprehensive workplace HIV/AIDS care and treatment program for its workers in Africa and elsewhere employed directly or indirectly by Coca-Cola's affiliated bottlers and distributors. After demonstrations in New York, Washington, Atlanta, Boston, and Barcelona in the summer of 2002, numerous universities taking part in a "Kick Coke of Our Campus" campaign, an October 17 Global Day of Action on four continents brought additional pressure against Coca-Cola to commit to a comprehensive and sustainable workplace program.

Fifteen months after its initial promise to negotiate with bottlers on the provision of treatment to all of its workers in the Coca-Cola system in Africa and shortly before the Global Day of Action, the company for the first time committed in writing to enroll all of its African system workforce in an HIV/AIDS healthcare program that includes antiretroviral therapy, thereby launching The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and Bottlers in Africa HIV/AIDS Healthcare Program. In subsequent correspondence and personal communications, Coca-Cola representatives promised that all bottlers and distributors would be enrolled by the end of March 2003.

As Health GAP continued to engage corporations to adopt workplace policies of non-discrimination and provision of prevention, care, and treatment programs for workers and their dependents living with HIV and as we have continued to follow the development of the Coca-Cola HIV/AIDS Healthcare Program, we regret that Coca-Cola has failed to show proof of commitment to the success of the Program and in particular has failed to address multiple problem areas that have previously been brought to its attention.

* Prompt and efficient rollout of treatment programs: Coca-Cola needs to revise its processes and address problem discussed further below to ensure a rapid, efficient rollout of treatment in Africa:

-- While Coca-Cola is in danger of missing its March 2003 deadline of formally enrolling all bottlers in the cost-sharing scheme, the real problem is the lack of progress on rolling out actual treatment programs. Coca-Cola must announce a firm timetable not only for enrollment of distributors but for implementation of treatment.

-- Coca-Cola must report on the number of programs, if any, implemented thus far and the number of people living with HIV/AIDS who are eligible for and receiving treatment, which are true indicators of Coca-Cola's commitment--more so than memos of understanding between it and its bottlers. Coca-Cola must continuously monitor and evaluate the overall Program based on standard metrics and should thereafter regularly and transparently make such reports available to Health GAP and other stakeholders.

-- Rollout of the Program will continue to be hampered unless Coca-Cola streamlines the implementation process and requires distributors to promptly contract, on standardized terms, with the designated care coordinator, PharmAccess. Currently PharmAccess, a non-profit foundation based in the Netherlands, which is contracted with Coca-Cola to roll out its treatment programs, must negotiate separate agreements with each of Coca-Cola's bottlers and distributors individually in each country on all issues from planning to procurement.

* Quality of Care: Coca-Cola's insistence on a decentralized process and the resulting lack off accountability has put the success of the Program in jeopardy:

-- Coca-Cola must cease giving mixed messages to bottlers about working with Pharmaccess or launching a treatment program on their own. Without universal standards and treatment protocols the quality of care is threatened and the integrity of Coca-Cola's Program is compromised.

-- Coca-Cola must centralize the program and put standard operating procedures in place not only to ensure quality, but also to allow the efficient procurement of drugs and diagnostics, consistent program-wide monitoring and evaluation, and reliable system-wide reporting methods.

* Treatment Uptake: Throughout Africa, efforts to enroll people living with HIV/AIDS in treatment programs is compromised by stigma and discrimination and by a lack of treatment literacy:

-- Coca-Cola must ensure that bottlers and distributors are upholding the promise of confidentiality of all medical records without which uptake of services is likely to suffer. Voluntary and confidential HIV testing must be provided with clear statements on a universal policy of non-discrimination.

-- Coca-Cola must ensure that bottlers and distributors are implementing a policy of non-discrimination and non-stigmatization and foster a workplace and community ethos of care and concern for people living with HIV/AIDS.

-- Coca-Cola must support workplace treatment literacy campaigns which will help educate system workers about the feasibility and pragmatics of treatment and that encourages voluntary counseling and testing.

* Universal rollout: Coca-Cola needs to extend the coverage of AIDS treatment to Coca-Cola system workers in other developing countries.

-- The current slowdown in Africa further delays the availability of AIDS treatment to Coca-Cola workforce in developing countries outside of Africa. Coca-Cola has hundreds of thousands of system workers in other developing countries, including countries with growing AIDS crises, and these workers too, and their dependents, are entitled to meaningful access to life-saving treatment.

* 10% co-pay for worker: Activists predict that the announced 10% co-pay provisions will deter uptake of treatment, especially in light of the relative low wages of workers, the relative high cost of ARV treatment, and the possibility of multiple cases of HIV infection in a particular family. Although Coca-Cola has promised in writing that it "will not let inability to pay be a barrier to treatment," it has failed to address activist concerns that co-pays will negatively impact uptake. Accordingly, we demand that Coca-Cola:

-- publicize the costs of annual treatment against average bottler salaries in each country;

-- monitor uptake to be certain that 10% co-pay requirements are not negatively affecting uptake;

-- review and revise its 10% co-pay provision if reporting shows that treatment uptake has suffered; and

* Cost-sharing with bottlers: Coca-Cola has announced that its bottling "partners" will need to cover 40% of program costs, but that "cost sharing will not serve as a barrier to participation by all bottlers in Africa." Coca-Cola must confirm its willingness to negotiate with smaller and mid-sized bottlers about their cost-sharing percentage and further than Coca-Cola is willing to reconsider such percentages in the future as more workers take advantage of costly ARV treatment programs.

* Cheapest medicines: Coca-Cola has committed to expand its potential sources of pharmaceutical products beyond those provided by GlaxoSmithKline, depending on national intellectual property and drug registration status. Coca-Cola should commit further to the principle of utilizing low-cost generic producers wherever possible in order to decrease costs to bottlers and workers.

* Sustained corporate commitment: At present, Coca-Cola's commitment to the Africa HIV/AIDS Healthcare Program is through its charitable arm, the Africa Foundation. To solidify and ensure the Program's success:

-- Coca-Cola must publicly issue a formal corporate-level commitment to sustaining the Program indefinitely. Activists rightfully question Coca-Cola's long-term commitment to the Program in light of the statement by Robert Lindsay, VP of Public Affairs & Communication for the Africa Group, that the "Foundation will likely withdraw because the financial burden [on the bottlers] will become less."

-- As stated previously, Coca-Cola must integrate HIV/AIDS workplace policies and protocols into its system-wide operations as a minimum standard for its bottling partners in Africa and must formally state its commitment and generate timeline for extending coverage for AIDS treatment, as part of a comprehensive HIV/AIDS workplace policy, for its operations in developing countries outside of Africa.

* Meetings with Health GAP and public reports to stakeholders: After a long delay, Coca-Cola reluctantly agreed to sponsor a meeting between Health GAP and other activists with Robert Lindsay from the Africa Foundation. At this point, given the need for a higher level corporate commitment from Coca-Cola, we request a meeting with the President and with Deval Patrick, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, in order to discuss these programmatic concerns and demands for expanded commitment. In addition to requesting a meeting, and in light of ongoing operational concerns, we also request a system of regular and transparent reports every three months of operational milestones. The treatment of workers living with HIV/AIDS, and their dependents, is too important to fall to the back burner or to suffer unnecessary delays and problems because of poor information flows and limited external accountability.

Sincerely,

Sharonann Lynch and Brook K. Baker, Health GAP

cc:
Clyde Tuggle, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications Deval L. Patrick, Executive Vice President and General Counsel Alexander Cummings, Jr., Chief Operating Officer for Coca-Cola Africa Robert Lindsay, Vice President, Public Affairs & Communication, Africa Group

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