Philip Ellis
News & Views
The role of brands in the battle against AIDS

Yesterday saw the White House adorned with a red ribbon to mark World AIDS Day 2014. At the same time, the ONE campaign revealed that we are at an historic, pivotal moment in the journey towards an AIDS-free generation. “We’ve passed the tipping point in the AIDS fight at the global level,” says ONE’s Director of Global Health Policy, Erin Hohlfelder, “but not all countries are there yet, and the gains made can easily stall or unravel… We should not take a victory lap yet.”

One thing which is becoming increasingly clear is the role that the private sector can play in raising awareness of HIV/AIDS and making support available to those who need it. “We would love to see companies keeping [HIV/AIDS] on their agenda,” says Jeanette McKenna from Standard Chartered Bank, “and many more companies putting it on their agenda.” But while Standard Chartered has been a supporter of the cause since the Nineties, other companies are reluctant to put their name to what is, historically, a controversial subject.

Common misconceptions of HIV/AIDS, and the prejudice that so often accompanies those misconceptions, mean that securing the support of household names continues to be an uphill battle. Matthew Hodson, CEO of the charity GMFA, goes so far as to say: “If a large corporation said they would be happy to sponsor us, I’d bend down and kiss their feet.”

And while a number of brands have joined the fight, including (RED) partners Apple, Coca-Cola and Starbucks, more organisations are conspicuous by their silence, leading writer and activist Kristian Johns to tweet: “Frankly gutted at the lack of World AIDS Day nods from major brands and landmarks. HIV hasn’t gone away. Why has the effort?” He went on to specifically call out Google, a company with an admittedly “brilliant reputation” within the LGBT community, for passing on the opportunity to use the Google doodle to raise awareness of World AIDS Day.

Baffling, really. If we’re talking big brands, they don’t come much bigger than ‘President of the United States’, and Barack Obama has himself issued a proclamation making his stance on HIV/AIDS known in no uncertain terms:

“Too many communities, including gay and bisexual men, African Americans, and Hispanics remain disproportionately impacted; and too many individuals continue to bear the burden of discrimination and stigma. There is more work to do, and my administration remains steadfast in our commitment to defeating this disease.”

Perhaps by the time World Aids Day 2015 rolls around, more brands will have the balls to follow his example, stand up, and play a part in wiping out this disease once and for all.

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