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SOUTH AFRICA: Business response to HIV/AIDS draws mixed reaction

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

DURBAN, 9 June (PLUSNEWS) - Delegates at the South African AIDS conference in the port city of Durban heard mixed views from experts on Wednesday as to where business was heading in terms of addressing HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

During the Africa Economic Summit in Cape Town last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said local companies were leading the continent in their AIDS response, with up to 91 percent having policies in place.

However, a study conducted in Wynberg, Johannesburg, by the US-based Center for International Health and Development (CIHD), which examined the constraints and opportunities in providing AIDS prevention and treatment services to employees at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), suggested otherwise.

Sydney Rosen, a member of the CIHD research team, told PlusNews: "Small and medium-sized enterprises were overlooked in the forums - the WEF is not really interested in how tiny companies, who have no international ties, are faring against the impact of the disease on their workforce."

Rosen maintained that the unwillingness of the SMEs approached to participate in the study was proof of just how little they were doing to tackle the disease.

Approximately half the 100 companies refused; of these, 16 said they did not have time to be interviewed, and 33 either declined to give a reason or said they were not interested.

Interviews with 17 companies could not be arranged within the period of time allowed for research, leaving a final sample of just 34 companies.

"We found a high refusal rate among the surveyed companies to provide AIDS services to their employees. Although 82 percent of the companies did subsidise the cost of medical aid membership for some or all of their permanent employees, we estimated that only 30 percent of all employees of the surveyed companies are medical aid beneficiaries," Rosen commented.

Senior management at the local division of the multinational company, Engen, presented a positive overview of how their recently implemented policies were addressing HIV/AIDS, but Rosen warned that it required more than policies to tackle the effects of the pandemic.

"Ensuring effective workplace policies and strategies requires a multilevel response, with great participation from upper management - there is still a glaring unwillingness by business owners to face the facts about what AIDS could do to their workforce," said Rosen.

It has been recognised that HIV/AIDS will affect every workplace, with prolonged staff illness, absenteeism and death impacting on productivity, employee benefits, occupational health and safety, production costs and morale.


Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
The HIV testing debate: voluntary or opt-out? ,  16/May/06
New sexual offences bill fails to protect rape survivors,  9/May/06
Positive immigrants,  2/May/06
Small clinic at centre of debate over traditional medicine,  1/May/06
Refugees fall through the cracks in free treatment,  28/Apr/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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