A decision by Nestlé to help fund Red Cross Aids programmes in Africa highlights the growing need for corporate money in the humanitarian field.
On Thursday, the Swiss food multinational presented the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with a cheque for SFr500,000 ($319,000), the first instalment of a SFr3 million donation to the African Red Cross Red Crescent Health Initiative (ARCHI) 2010.
The Secretary General of the Federation, Didier Cherpitel, said such corporate support would have a significant impact on fighting diseases such as HIV/Aids.
"The HIV virus is winning at the moment. The health messages, drugs, interventions that could make a big difference are there, but they are not reaching people in most need," Cherpitel said.
"New partnerships and ways of working are needed if people are to be reached and an epidemic stopped. This relationship with Nestlé represents potential for the future," he added.
In its corporate business principles, Nestlé says it aims to build a business "based on sound human values and principles". It is an enthusiastic supporter of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Global Compact, in which he challenged business leaders to adopt ethical policies to make globalisation benefit everyone.
Despite these strong social values, Nestlé has frequently been the target of criticism from non-governmental organisations over its promotion of baby milk formula and products made from genetically modified crops in developing countries.
The Vevey-based company will commit SFr3 million over three years for a range of projects addressing urgent health problems in Africa, but in particular, the HIV/Aids epidemic.
Three million Swiss francs may seem a drop in the ocean when faced with the enormity of the Aids pandemic. But it represents a significant and high profile boost to the programme's coffers, and one the federation hopes will encourage other enterprises to follow suit.
Nestlé is the first corporation to contribute to this campaign, and its Chief Executive Officer, Peter Brabeck, encouraged other businesses to follow its example.
The multinational's initial SFr500,000 contribution will be used mainly in Red Cross HIV/Aids prevention programmes in Nigeria, where more than 2.7 million people are believed to be carrying the virus. The rest of the money will be used to support other ARCHI programmes.
ARCHI 2010, which was launched in September 2000, is a ten-year community health programme involving 53 African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, national health ministries and United Nations agencies.
The scheme aims to combat not only HIV/Aids, but also malaria, malnutrition and vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles.
by Roy Probert