South African Insurance Firm To Offer Antiretroviral Treatment to EmployeesOld Mutual, South Africa's largest insurance company, has announced that it will offer antiretroviral treatment to its HIV-positive employees, BBC News reports. Based on previous voluntary and anonymous testing, the company said it estimates that about 600 employees, or 5% of its workforce, is HIV-positive. CEO Roddy Sparks did not say how much Old Mutual will spend on the treatment program, but acknowledged that it was likely to cost the company "millions" of dollars. "At some stage there's more to (this than) costs. We're always closely watching our bottom line, but we have made this decision on a corporate conscience basis," Sparks said, adding, "What is the price of a human life when you can save people and their dependents?" The company is not reversing its policy of declining insurance for people with HIV. Deputy CEO Peter Moyo said underwriting such coverage would be too costly for the company. The denial of such coverage has been criticized by AIDS activists. "We believe that insurance companies have contributed to the genocide of people who died prematurely of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses in South Africa," the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS said.
Sparks said he hoped the announcement, which makes Old Mutual the latest in a "small but growing list if South African firms" that have said they will offer antiretroviral therapy to employees, will "contribute to the national debate" over the supply of antiretroviral medications in South Africa, where one in nine people is believed to be HIV-positive. The government has so far "refused" to offer the drugs through the public health system, but is conducting tests of the drug nevirapine, which is used to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission, at several pilot sites (BBC News, 9/10).