Only 4% of Employees at South Africa’s Largest Companies Enrolled in HIV/AIDS Disease-Management Plans, Survey Shows
Although 14.3% of employees at South Africa's largest companies are HIV-positive, only 4% of employees are participating in HIV/AIDS disease-management plans and only 0.6% of employees are receiving antiretroviral drugs, according to a survey conducted by the Center for International Health and Development at Boston University, South Africa's Financial Mail reports. The survey, titled "Treatment of HIV/AIDS at SA's Largest Employers: Myth or Reality," found that only 25 of South Africa's 64 largest employers are aware of how many of their employees are on HIV/AIDS disease-management programs and are taking antiretrovirals. At those 25 companies -- which employ a total of 656,000 people -- 26,255 employees, or 4%, participate in HIV/AIDS disease-management programs, and 3,908 employees, or 0.6%, are taking antiretrovirals. Financial services and mining companies led in providing HIV/AIDS-related benefits, with 100% of financial services companies and 75% of mining companies offering antiretrovirals to all HIV-positive employees. However, 31% of retail companies and no construction companies offered antiretrovirals to HIV-positive employees. According to the survey, companies that have "in-house" HIV/AIDS management programs are more successful in getting employees into antiretroviral treatment programs, according to the Mail.
Most of the employees currently taking antiretrovirals work at only a "few" companies, according to the Mail. The "low uptake of treatment is puzzling" because about 10% of employees in large companies should "already be sick" and in need of antiretrovirals, according to the Mail. Patrick Connelly, a researcher for the survey, said that HIV/AIDS-related benefits offered by companies are "so underutilized" because of stigma attached to the disease and because most company programs were only begun in the past year. However, more than 1,000 employees of mining company Anglo American are taking antiretrovirals. In comparison, there are about 20,000 individuals currently receiving antiretrovirals from the South African government's antiretroviral program announced in 2003, according to the Mail.
"Many companies waited to see what the government [antiretroviral] program would deliver," Rodney Cowlin -- director of Aid for AIDS, a company that manages HIV/AIDS programs for 44 medical schemes covering 1.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa -- said, "This year, as they realize the government is prioritizing the unemployed and probably won't reach their sick workers, they are starting their own programs." Connelly said that companies "will now have to move to the next level, not just providing HIV/AIDS services, but questioning the quality of the methods of delivering services and encouraging employees to access them" (Pile, Financial Mail, 1/14). According to a December 2003 survey by the South African Bureau for Economic Research and the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS has had a significant adverse impact on the business practices of 9% of companies in South Africa, and 43% of companies predicted they would feel an impact from the disease within five years. The survey of 1,006 South African companies in October 2003 and November 2003 found that approximately 30% of the firms reported higher labor turnover rates, 27% had lost experience and skills and 24% amassed recruitment and training costs because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/11/03).