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|HIV and my business|
HIV/AIDS is impacting on economic activity and social progress around the world. Only now are the hidden costs of HIV/AIDS to business coming to light. Besides the costs to individual companies, HIV/AIDS is hampering human resource development, undermining the skills base and driving away foreign investment. The benefits of a proactive approach far outweigh the costs of doing nothing.
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Over 90 percent of people with HIV/AIDS are in the most productive period of their lives be they workers, managers or employers. According to the International Labour Organisation as many as 36 million of the 39 million people living with HIV are in some form of productive activity. There is no doubt then that HIV/AIDS affects business causing costs to escalate and markets to contract. While many would argue that business has a moral responsibility to help tackle the worst health crisis the world has seen in 700 years, there is also the matter of the bottom line.
For anyone doing business in South Africa, 10 40 percent of the workforce is likely to be infected with HIV. But the impact and potential impact of HIV/AIDS varies from one company to the next. Labour and capital-intensive industries, as well as those with a high mobility of labour, are most affected. Research in South Africa shows that the mining, metals processing, agribusiness and transport sectors are most affected by the pandemic, with more than 23 percent of employees infected with HIV/AIDS and with prevalence rates two to three times higher among skilled and unskilled workers than among supervisors and managers.
Companies are directly affected by lower productivity, greater absenteeism, vacant posts, the need to retrain and rehire workers, reduced productivity due to staff inexperience or illness, loss of morale among employees, poor labour relations, less reliable supply chains and distribution channels
the list is endless. Other direct costs to companies depend on whether they offer employment benefits, funeral cover, pensions and in-house medical facilities.
Business has direct access to those most affected the productive members of our society. The workplace is the ideal environment for tackling the epidemic as employers and employees group together regularly in an environment where communication systems to disseminate information and undertake education programmes exist.
Business is good at making things happen: with its focus on problem-solving, target-setting and speedy delivery, programmes can be run effectively and efficiently. Core skills of business such as media, marketing or training can also be harnessed for in-house programmes or to support community or NGO initiatives.
There is no doubt that HIV/AIDS has an effect on the markets generally and on consumer behaviour. A healthier labour force generates more spending power and a more vibrant economy generally. And besides the moral imperative to save lives and the direct financial savings to the company resulting from more productive employees whose health and lives are prolonged with ARVs, there are other direct benefits too:
Every company should have an HIV/AIDS policy and a programme in place, with four key elements:
Whether services are offered in the company or by partnering institutions or organisations depends on the nature and size of the company. Putting policies and programmes in place can involve costs, time and other resources that smaller companies just dont have. But there is help at hand. See our Case Studies to find out what others are doing. SABCOHAs toolkit gives step-by-step guidance on how to tailor-make a programme to suit the needs and budget of your company. For very small businesses, SABCOHA runs BizAIDS, a programme to empower businesses with 10 or fewer employees to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS.
Those industries most hard-hit by the epidemic, such as the mining, manufacturing, transport and financial sectors, are further down the road than others like the building, construction, retail and wholesale sectors. Some, like De Beers and Anglo Platinum, have developed fully-fledged workplace HIV programmes that have now evolved into broader wellness programmes.
SABCOHA offers a Workplace HIV/AIDS Toolkit, which is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to implementing a workplace HIV/AIDS programme. Produced in partnership with Unilever and Standard Bank the toolkit is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses. However, it is also of relevance to bigger businesses whose supply chains are threatened by HIV/AIDS. The toolkit enables bigger companies to help their smaller partners and associates by providing them with an easy-to-use workplace guide. To buy a toolkit, click here .
Although companies should aim to establish a budget for an HIV/AIDS programme or for specific HIV/AIDS-related activities, some interventions can be implemented at little or no cost. Collaboration is the key word: avoid duplication and reinventing the wheel by doing some preliminary research to see who is doing what. Look at our Case Study section for examples of best practice and what to avoid. Smaller companies can team up to share costs; resources, services and expertise may be found in the community or business environment itself. St Leger and Viney (click story in Case Study folder) is an example of a small company that has created a programme using public resources. SABCOHA also helps companies to access funding.
Assessing the extent of the threat posed by HIV/AIDS to your company is usually the first step towards setting up an HIV/AIDS workplace programme. This can entail: finding out existing levels of HIV/AIDs infection among employees and/or surrounding communities (some companies do anonymous testing to find out prevalence rates in the company), calculating the cost to company of HIV/AIDS-related employee absence, low productivity, hospitalisation or death, and calculating the costs of implementing a programme. Some companies use KAP studies (assessing Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices) to assess the level and extent of intervention required.
VCT programmes must be part of a broader HIV/AIDS programme that enables the employee to access HIV prevention, care and if necessary treatment. VCT should also be part of a broader health service delivery for employees so that they dont view the initiative as an attempt to screen them. And unless a VCT programme is run in a climate of confidentiality and non-discrimination, it will fail.
Employers can prolong the health and productivity of employees living with HIV/AIDS by offering care, treatment and support services either in the company or by partnering with health care providers in the private or public sector. Research shows there are large savings to be made regarding a reduction in death, disability and sick leave costs as well as human resource and medical costs. A service whether in-house or not needs to include the treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases, opportunistic infections, particularly TB (less costly than ARVs), counselling support, ARVs, home-based and palliative care.
Successful interventions seldom operate in isolation and many companies implementing HIV/AIDS workplace programmes soon see their initiatives impacting on a broader community: the employee who goes home to a family; the community living near the workplace; the consumers who buy products
Forging partnerships with other organisations in the surrounding community generates new awareness about community needs and offerings. Read our Case Studies for inspirational examples of HIV/AIDS initiatives that have evolved into fully-fledged outreach programmes. Anglo Platinum, De Beers and Daimler Chrysler South Africa are excellent examples.