Why you need to implement a workplace HIV/AIDS programme

While we may know about HIV/AIDS, SME owners are beginning to realise that it may become a threat to their businesses if not managed correctly. The death of employees, absenteeism due to illness, and even customers and service providers being lost to AIDS-related illnesses, means that we can no longer sit back and do nothing. Finding a way to help your employees is not as hard as you think. All it takes is a little motivation and a lot of support and information.

Research has proved that HIV/AIDS can have a direct impact on the economy in general, and with a significant amount of the South African workforce being HIV-positive, the results are even more devastating. It stands to reason that a healthier labour force generates more consumer spending and a more vibrant economy overall.

The mismanagement of HIV/AIDS could cost you money

  • Your company could be directly affected due to lower productivity, greater absenteeism, time taken to retrain/rehire workers, loss of staff morale, less reliable supply chains and distribution channels, etc. etc. etc.
  • Other direct costs depend on whether you offer employment benefits, funeral cover, pensions and in-house medical facilities.
  • The country's skills base is affected in so many ways; the direct loss of skilled people and the fact that students and learners often have to drop out of school to take care of sick family members
  • The increasing number of sick people and AIDS orphans has historically placed a huge burden on the country's already poor health and social welfare infrastructure

When you look at it this way, you'll see why a workplace HIV programme is a vital part of doing business, and it's not as overwhelming as it sounds. There is a lot of support out there for businesses with limited budgets, but it's for you to reach out for help.

Do it step-by-step

The kind of programme you implement depends on the size of your company and, of course, the size of your budget. Adapt the steps below to suit your needs, keeping in mind that you're investing in the long-term sustainability and success of your business.

Having read this article up to now, you probably have a good idea of exact impact of HIV/AIDS of your company, so you may not want to go into more detail. But, if you need more information to know exactly what you're dealing with, you must assess the extent of the threat posed by HIV/AIDS. This can entail:

  • Finding out how many HIV-positive employees you have. This is usually done through anonymous testing where employee names are not disclosed to you.
  • Calculating the cost to company of HIV/AIDS-related employee absence, low productivity, hospitalisation, or death.
  • Calculating the costs of implementing a programme.

There are many elements to an HIV/AIDS programme and it all depends how far you want to go. Education initiatives, voluntary testing and counselling, and treatment support are just some of the ways you can ensure the health – and productivity – of your staff. A more comprehensive plan is not necessarily going to cost the earth.

now that I have a plan, how do I put it into action?

To help you tackle the problem head-on, here is a guide you can follow or adapt to suit your company's needs.

1) Implement a HIV/AIDS policy and a programme

It should have four key elements:

  • An HIV/AIDS education drive aimed at creating awareness and preventing infection.
  • Care and support for those already infected or affected by HIV.
  • Protection of these employees from stigma and discrimination.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the programme – to ensure it suits the needs of your business and employees.

There are a range of local and internal organisations that can offer help in these areas, so providing these services to your employees need not exhaust all your resources.

2) Make use of outside support services

Prepare to set aside a budget (even a small one) for your HIV/AIDS programme and related activities. To stretch your rand a bit further, partner up with other local businesses to contract service providers, share information and take advantage of lower fees for higher volumes. All businesses can be affected by HIV/AIDS, so it's in your best interest to make a collaborative effort.

Various NGOs and Government organisations offer free awareness, testing, counselling, and treatment services to those who can not afford to pay. Some service providers to smaller companies are:

  • SABCOHA: The South African Business Coalition on HIV and AIDS 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 SMEs.
  • info4africa: (previously HIV-911) info4africa specializes in data collection, data quality assurance and development of health strengthening support tools.  Its service finder database is free to use and helps people locate health, wellbeing and related services and support anywhere in South Africa.

A little research will help you find organisations in your area that will help you implement your HIV/AIDS programme and keep it going.

Whether you simply want provide employees with information and distribute free condoms, or go a little further to give them as much support as you can, you'll find more details in the other articles listed in our HIV/AIDS category.

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