How South African Businesses are Rising to the Challenge of HIV and AIDS
As well as having a devastating impact on individuals, HIV and AIDS are also having an increasingly negative economic impact on many African businesses and organisations. However, more and more businesses are waking up to huge benefits that well-implemented HIV/AIDS workplace support programs have to offer. These programmes institute policies and procedures that prevent infected employees from discrimination from colleagues, as well as offering free HIV testing to their workforce in an attempt to diagnose and manage the disease at an early stage. This in turn helps employees stay healthy, take control of their illness and encourages the entire workforce to work together to support affected colleagues and work together collaboratively to prevent the illness having a negative impact on the company as a whole.
Anglo American leads the way
One of the earliest organisations to adopt such a proactive approach was Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies. They recognized the heavy toll that HIV was having on its 100,000 strong South African workforce and in 2002 introduced a comprehensive and wide ranging programme in the workplace in order to ensure early diagnosis and work with affected employees to better manage their condition. In doing this, they’ve had a positive impact on not just their employees, but the wider community. They offer counselling to affected staff members as well as awareness raising and prevention campaigns in the wider area to help safeguard their staff and families. They also offer free medical treatment to their employees and their dependants, including free nutritional supplements and anti retroviral drugs. By paying for their staff to have this treatment, Anglo American are improving their overall productivity. It makes great business- as well as social- sense. In 2012 they tested and counselled approximately 95,000 employees and contractors in South Africa, many of whom will go on to raise awareness in the wider community and pass on key messages about early diagnosis and treatment.
Community outreach and support
Another company who are leading the way in supporting personnel with HIV and AIDS are Mercedes-Benz South Africa. However, they’re also taking one step further than many other employers by also reaching out to the wider community: not just dependents of their employees. MBSA support and fund several projects that offer a lifeline to local people, such as the Sange Child and Youth Care Centre in Mdantsan. It was founded in 2010 to provide welfare and care to children in need of protection, including young people affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. MBSA have strong ties to the Mdantsane region as a large portion of their labour force live and work there. MBSA also run the Siyakhana Health Trust in partnership with the Border-Kei Chamber of Business and a German development agency. This project provides 30 other small and medium sized companies in the Eastern Cape with HIV/AIDS awareness training, counselling, testing and care.
The SA Business Coalition on HIV/Aids
Both of these companies are members of Sabcoha, the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, along with other major employers such as Afrox, Volkswagen of South Africa, Unilever and Toyota SA. With a membership base of over 40 corporations, large multinationals and smaller businesses, this vocal and influential coalition is effecting real change in SA by lobbying the government, running research projects and supporting businesses in setting up their own HIV and AIDS workplace testing and support programmes. Sabcoha have also put together a risk reducing training programme for very small businesses and new start ups called ‘BizAIDS’: a toolkit of guidelines and practical steps they can take in order to reduce the risk of infection among their staff.
When all is said and done, the epidemic is having a significant and severe effect on businesses and profitability across the continent, as well as fracturing communities and damaging the feeling of well-being and security that’s essential for a healthy economy. By addressing the illness at a basic, supportive level- as well as sharing best practice- South African businesses are taking care of their moral responsibility to care for their staff members as well as supporting their bottom line: something that’s vital in ensuring they can continue to provide valuable employment opportunities.