Health campaigners decry global HIV fund's deal with Heineken

LONDON: International health campaigners and alcohol concern groups called on a major global HIV and malaria fund on Thursday to end immediately a partnership it had signed with the Dutch brewer Heineken.

In an open letter to the director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an alliance of more than 2,000 health organisations voiced "deep concern" and said the deal would only help Heineken broaden 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.

It accused companies such as 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".

The open letter, a copy of which was sent to Reuters, was addressed to the Global Fund's incoming executive director Peter Sands, its board chair Aida Kurtovic, as well as its interim executive director.

It was signed by Katie Dain of the NCD Alliance, which groups 2,000 health organisations from around the world, by Kristina Sperkova of the anti-alcohol group IOGT International, and by Sally Casswell of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance.

The Global Fund, a grouping of governments, civil society and the private sector which invests some $4 billion a year into programmes to fight infectious diseases, announced a new partnership with Heineken last week which it said would "further advance a common goal" of fighting disease epidemics in Africa.

Under the deal Heineken - the world's second-largest brewer - would lend expertise in logistics and communications to help the Global Fund reach specific demographic groups most at risk of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Seth Faison, a spokesman for the Global Fund, said the letter had been received and noted.

"We ... appreciate the points it makes about the role of alcohol in public health and development," he said in an emailed reply to Reuters. "We take these concerns seriously."

He added, however, that the risks and benefits of the Heineken partnership had been thoroughly reviewed by Global Fund senior managers in mid-2017 before the deal was approved.

He said Heineken's supply chain experts would work with Global Fund planners to better deliver medicines and health supplies to people who need them.

Heinken said in an emailed comment that it is committed "responsible marketing" and advocates moderate consumption of alcohol in its advertising.

It said the Global Fund would enable both organisations "to collectively serve more people throughout Africa"

The health campaigners said, however, that they were deeply concerned about the partnership's implications for health.

"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.