The World Health Organization in its journal, The Bulletin, has voiced concerns over the financial support that SABMiller, the world’s second biggest brewer, has gotten from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The funding is intended for an educational intervention aimed at minimizing alcohol-related harm, including HIV prevention, among men in South African drinking establishments. The authors of the article in question, call this situation a conflict of interest.
Among the concerns of the authors, it’s discussed whether men in drinking establishments are the best target group for the intervention, whether a drinking establishment is the best location, and whether the educational intervention itself is effective. According to the authors, the alcohol industry is inclined to support interventions that will not affect drinking rates at a population level. These interventions allow the industry to simultaneously fulfill social and legal obligations to address the harmful use of alcohol while ensuring that sales and profits are not hurt. Additionally, the article raises the question why a highly profitable industry that could afford to fund its own interventions is receiving this funding, and why it’s not going to less well-resourced organizations.
The same issue of the Bulletin also carries a reaction from the Global Fund, explaining that it welcomes any discussion about the efficacy of interventions and programmes it supports, but does not recognize a conflict of interest.
Experts on conflicts of interest also shed their light on the situation in the Bulletin, and disagree with the Global Fund. They point to the apparent failure by both the Global Fund and the Government of South Africa to recognize and adequately address the potential conflict between corporate interests and public health goals. ‘In this case, because of well-established links between alcohol use, violence (including sexual violence) and risky sexual behavior, alcohol may be seen as a risk factor in the spread of HIV infection. Reducing alcohol use can therefore be seen as key to reducing HIV infection. Yet this inevitably conflicts with SABMiller’s underlying goal of maximizing profits from alcohol sales.’
Since the alcohol industry is very successful in wielding Social Corporate Responsibility as a marketing instrument, the experts warn that it is of paramount importance that ‘those developing or funding alcohol interventions’, need to ‘address these potential conflicts better’. Unless they do, problems such as this one will recur and the harms arising from alcohol misuse will fail to be addressed.