Helping business to tackle Aids
Business is playing an increasingly important role in the fight against HIV/Aids in South Africa.
The SA Business Coalition on HIV/Aids (Sabcoha) lobbies and partners with the government, spearheads research and pilots best practice in Aids workplace programmes, and empowers companies to respond effectively to the epidemic.
With a membership base of over 40 corporates, around 10 large companies and more than 50 small companies and service providers, Sabcoha responds to the needs of South African business in its responses to the epidemic.
Aids and the bottom line
HIV/Aids has a significant impact on business, not only causing costs to escalate and markets to contract, but also damaging the societal wellbeing essential for a healthy economy.
While many would argue that business has a moral responsibility to help tackle the worst health crisis the world has seen since the Black Plague, there is also the matter of the bottom line.
For anyone doing business in South Africa, 10-40% of the workforce is likely to be infected with HIV. But the impact and potential impact of HIV/Aids varies greatly from one company to the next. Labour and capital-intensive industries, as well as those with high labour mobility, are most affected.
Research shows that if companies invest in prevention and treatment programmes, the savings outweigh the costs. Providing care and treatment for HIV-positive employees can reduce the financial burden of HIV/Aids by as much as 40%.
In South Africa the mining, metals processing, agribusiness and transport sectors are most affected by the pandemic, with more than 23% of employees infected with HIV/Aids. Prevalence rates are also higher among skilled and unskilled workers than among supervisors and managers.
SA companies lead the way
Many companies in the sectors most affected - mining, transport, energy and manufacturing - have for obvious reasons become the most proactive in tackling the problem. As a result they have become world leaders in their responses to HIV/Aids in the workplace.
"Some of the most comprehensive and successful HIV workplace programmes are being developed in the [South African] private sector," says Sabcoha CEO Brad Mears. "These can be used as a blueprint by those countries which have yet to feel the impact of the disease."
SAB, Anglo American and Volkswagen are among those companies that have developed world-class programmes now being used elsewhere.
Sabcoha showcases many of these workplace programmes as best practice examples for other companies to emulate or learn from on its website. The organisation also offers a toolkit that gives step-by-step guidance on how to tailor-make a programme to suit the needs and budgets of individual companies.
Due to ongoing stigma around Aids and the demand for other health services, many companies now offer broader health and wellness services rather than narrowly defined HIV/Aids programmes.
"What is encouraging to see is not only the growing strength of workplace programmes, but - due to the fact that HIV is both in the workplace and the broader community - employers are increasingly embarking on community-wide initiatives," says Mears.
However, "there are also industries that are poorly resourced and unable to respond meaningfully without the support of government - these are the informal sector, the SMME and textile sector."
In partnership with Sabcoha, big players such as Eskom and Volkswagen, are piloting "supply chain" workplace programmes, offering services such as voluntary testing and counselling, provision of antiretrovirals and broader health and wellness services to employees in their small, less well-resourced supplier companies.
Sabcoha also offers BizAIDS, a "risk survival guide" for very small businesses. A toolkit of practical action plans and guidelines, BizAIDS helps very small business owners prepare for HIV/Aids and related emergencies. A partnership with the International Executive Services Council, a US-based non-profit organisation, BizAIDS trains hundreds of small business entrepreneurs every year.
Sanac has developed a national strategic plan to curb the impact of HIV/Aids in the country. Targets of the plan include halving the rate of new infections and getting treatment to 80% of those who need it by 2011.
Business, government partnerships
As well as lobbying government to respond effectively to the HIV crisis, the business sector is also perfectly positioned to partner government in its many HIV/Aids-related endeavours. "In the corporate sector there is considerable capacity, infrastructure and technical skill that business is able to share with government and other sectors regarding HIV/Aids programmes and activities," says Mears.
"There is also a great deal of capacity to complement what government is already doing, especially in the area of systems and data management, sharing of expertise and increasing capacity - particularly in the areas of medical aids and general practitioners."
Some industries, such as the road freight industry and the contract cleaning industry, are ideally positioned to support and extend the government's activities. One of Sabcoha's partnership programmes with the government, Project Promote, sees contract cleaners distributing millions of government-supplied condoms to public toilets around the country.
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