Bristol-Myers Squibb AIDS Initiative Draws Fire

Since announcing a five-year, $100 million donation to fight AIDS in Africa 18 months ago, Bristol-Myers Squibb has contributed more than $44 million to 33 AIDS programs in five African countries. But many observers, including AIDS activists and South African officials, have been highly critical of the program's aim and scope, the Washington Post reports.

Critics of the donation argue that although Bristol-Myers Squibb's commitment to the fight against AIDS in Africa is long-term, the programs supported by its "Secure the Future" initiative are reaching only a fraction of the 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa infected with the disease. Others contend that the company's primary focus was the public relations campaign surrounding the donation, a campaign some say was engineered to defuse demands from AIDS activists that it provide wider access to its AIDS medicines.

Bristol-Myers Squibb vice president Kenneth E. Weg denies such charges. "Secure the Future was not business-driven," Weg told the Post. "It was driven out of a concern that we had very substantial [charitable] programs in the United States but we didn't have a substantial program in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of the infected people were living."

After conducting its own extensive review of the program, the Washington Post found that while "much of the criticism holds true," Bristol-Myers's efforts were also subject to a series of complicated factors, including distrust of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, racial and political issues, and cultural confusion.

Bill Brubaker. "The Limits of $100 Million" Washington Post 12/29/2000.