Aids and the bottom line

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pretoria - Companies need to invest more on their HIV and Aids workplace programmes or continue to face losing million of rands in profit and productivity as a result of the disease.

These are some of the warnings that emerged out of a three-day workplace and HIV and Aids Research Conference underway in Midrand.

About 400 people, representing more than 50 different corporates, gathered at the indaba on Tuesday to find ways of responding more effectively to the epidemic without undermining the rights and dignity of the affected employees.

Research shows that if companies invest more in prevention and treatment programmes, the savings outweigh the costs. Around 5.7 million South Africans are living with HIV and between 10 and 40 percent of the country's work force were likely to be infected by the virus.

"It's a win-win situation because no company can afford to have a sick workforce...it affects productivity and it only makes business sense for employers to start taking care of their staff or face the reality of losing money," said South African National Aids Council (SANAC) Chief Executive Nono Simelela.

She said there had been a strong investment in HIV workplace programmes particularly in the mining sector where employers were now taking a more proactive approach in dealing with the various.

The mining sector together with transport and agriculture and manufacturing were the most affected by the disease - prompting leading companies like Mercedes Benz to take a pro-active action to protect their work force.

The South African Breweries, Anglo American and Volkswagen have followed suit to develop some of the best HIV work place programmes.

But Simelela said the challenge with the programmes had always been the stigma around HIV as employees turned to be worried about getting tested and then their employers know their positive, especially if it's positive.

"They need to be guaranteed that they will keep their jobs and there is a bigger review of the law to ensure that people are not discriminated against when they decide to disclose the status at work, the constitution should be able to protect them at all levels."

Organised labour continued to play a vital role within the SANAC, which is a powerful body made up of government, business, labour and civil society, to encourage more companies to invest in the wellness of their employees.

Mark Hayward, who represented Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi at the conference, said the Department of Health, will be using this year's World Aids Day in three weeks time to mobilise all South Africans around government's extensive testing and prevention campaign.

Launched in April, the campaign seeks to get 15 million people tested for HIV by June 2011.

"So far we are achieving our goals and come 1 December we will be out in full force to get more numbers in," said Hayward. The National Treasury has budgeted for 2.3 million people access antiretroviral by 2013.

Meanwhile, Motsoaledi is expected to release the much awaited results of the 2009 antenatal survey this week. The survey is conducted annually to provide South Africa with HIV trends among pregnant women and further provides the basis for making other estimates and projections on HIV and Aids trends.

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