The Jewelry Industry Fights AIDS
Though conflict diamonds get more attention these days, AIDS has taken a much higher toll on the people of Africa. Of the 36 million people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, 25 million are in Africa, according to the United Nations. Its General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in late June revealed 1 million infected sub-Saharan Africans die every three months. In Botswana, which produces the most diamonds in the world, life expectancy has plummeted from 64 to 49 years, said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who addressed the U.N. meeting and spent a week in Africa in May in part to witness the AIDS crisis there. South Africa is also in dire straits it has the highest number of AIDS cases on the continent.
Concern is practical as well as humanitarian. Work forces at diamond and metals mines are hard-hit. As much as 25% of South Africas work force is expected to have HIV by the end of 2002. A new study by the International Crisis Group, a private organization, says AIDS also is weakening governments abilities to maintain order in Africa and elsewhere. The report says AIDS could hinder African peacekeeping efforts in conflict countries such as Sierra Leone because the military is among the hardest hit groups. In Angola alone, researchers estimate that 60% of the military are HIV-positive. Peacekeeping forces also carry the virus to the countries they visit, spreading the disease even faster.
Im proud to report, however, the diamond and jewelry industries are stepping up to fight this crisis. A few months ago, Debswana, the diamond mining company jointly owned by De Beers and the government of Botswana, announced it would begin subsidizing the cost of antiretroviral treatments for HIV-positive employees and their infected spouses. Anglo American, the diamond and metals mining concern, is finalizing plans to provide AIDS drugs to its African work force. The worlds diamantaires are also doing their part. At the Cannes Film Festival in May, leading sightholders and their partners from top jewelry houses joined De Beers Diamond Trading Co. to cosponsor A Diamond is Forever: Cinema Against AIDS 2001 to benefit the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Here in the U.S., the Jewelers Charity Fund for Children earmarked $450,000 over the next two years to fund an Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation project in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus.
Since AIDS also strikes closer to home, Id like commend the efforts of Radcliffe Jewelers in Towson, MD, for hosting an event that raised $72,000 for a local AIDS organization. Also earning mention are Breitling, Baume & Mercier, Gregg Ruth, Waterford Crystal, Bulgari, Montblanc and John Hardy, which donated items for the events auction.
Whether the efforts are local, national or international, this industry recognizes the enormity of the AIDS crisis and is doing something about it. Perhaps as you make plans for your charitable events over the next year, you could keep AIDS fund-raising at the forefront. Support the Jewelers Charity Fund, which raises money each year to fight AIDS here and overseas, or other AIDS charities. In many ways, our industrys future is at stake.
Peggy Jo Donahue