June 19, 2001

Holbrooke Has New Role:  Leading Fight Against AIDS

By CHRISTOPHER S. WREN  from the NEW YORK TIMES

 

   

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 Five months after he left the United Nations as the United States ambassador, Richard C. Holbrooke is bounding back into the international arena, this time on behalf of the fight against AIDS.

Mr. Holbrooke will get involved as the new president and chief executive officer of the Global Business Council. The council was formed in London in October 1997 to galvanize businesses to take more responsibility for combatting AIDS, which in parts of the world has decimated their employees as well as their customers.

"Of all the major problems we face today wars, famines, racial conflict, terrorism. nuclear weapons the greatest threat comes from AIDS," Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview today. "This is not simply the most serious health crisis in 700 years, but it's also a direct threat to social and political and economic stability.

"There are other diseases which kill more people," he continued. "There's no disease that attacks the structure of society itself the way AIDS does."

The Global Business Council has signed up 20 companies so far. Mr. Holbrooke, who will work out of a new office in New York, promises to multiply this ten-fold to 200 corporate members. New members already include Coca Cola, A.O.L.-Time Warner, A.I.G., Unilever and Viacom, he said.

"Our goal is to have business play the role it should play," Mr. Holbrooke said. "Business has done a very small percentage of what it should do in the fight against AIDS."

Mr. Holbrooke is better known for his skills as a diplomat. He negotiated the 1995 Dayton accord that brought peace to Bosnia-Herzogovina, and last year at the United Nations cajoled other countries into letting the United States scale back its membership dues.

But Mr. Holbrooke pointed out that he also worked on Wall Street as a senior banker for 15 of the last 20 years, including for Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse First Boston, positioning him for fresh arm-twisting on behalf of the AIDS effort. Mr. Holbrooke will keep his current job as vice chairman of Perseus, L.L.C., a private equity firm that he joined after leaving the Clinton administration.

Bill Roedy, the council's current chairman, said he was excited about having Mr. Holbrooke join the AIDS campaign. "He's got passion; he's got tremendous connections," Mr. Roedy said in a telephone interview from Miami, where he was traveling in his corporate capacity as president of MTV International Networks. Mr. Holbrooke is no stranger to the AIDS issue. As chairman of the Security Council in January 2000, he organized its first session on a health issue, focusing on AIDS as a security threat. He subsequently visited 10 African countries affected by the continent's AIDS pandemic. And on his final day at the United Nations last Jan. 19, he had the Security Council address the awkward problem of AIDS being spread by United Nations peacekeepers.

Now Mr. Holbrooke, who will not receive a salary as leader of the Global Business Council, said he wants to press businesses to educate their employees on preventing AIDS, to remove the stigma attached to workers who have contracted the disease, and to undertake testing and treatment in the workplace. He cited some companies in infected areas that are leading by example, including Anglo American Corporation and the Daimler-Chrysler subsidiary in South Africa and the Volkswagen subsidiary in Brazil.

"I recently learned that 95 percent of people who are HIV-positive in the developing world do not know it," Mr. Holbrooke said. "It means they are unintentionally spreading it."

AIDS is the subject of a special conference at the United Nations next week, from June 25 to 27, when world leaders will gather to discuss targets and timetables for containing the disease and reducing its devastating impact.

Secretary General Kofi Annan has proposed that $7 billion to $10 billion be raised to finance the effort to stop AIDS. Today, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to contribute $100 million.

"We believe that there is no higher priority than stopping transmission of this deadly disease, Mr. Gates, the Microsoft founder, said in a statement announcing the donation.

A spokesman for Secretary General Annan said the Gates' contribution was largest private contribution to the fund so far. "It will form a cornerstone of the emerging global effort to reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said.




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