The prevalence of HIV/Aids among workers poses a very significant threat to both company productivity and occupational health and safety.
The disturbing effect that the HIV/Aids pandemic can have on an organisation’s workforce was made clear to delegates who attended this year’s occupational risk management conference NOSHCON, hosted by NOSA.
Dr Tim Nunn, chief medical officer at Ubombo Sugar in Swaziland, delivered a presentation on the disastrous effect that the disease can have on a company’s productivity.
"Owing to the effect that the disease has on a person, company productivity will inevitably be disrupted and reduced. In addition, it also drains company resources and increases medical costs tremendously,” stated Nunn. “HIV/Aids will always result in a gradual loss of productivity. Even if a person is on the correct medication, he or she will not be as productive as a healthy person.”
According to Nunn, there are currently over 5,4-million people infected with HIV in southern Africa, and this number is growing by roughly 100 000 per year. It is also estimated that around 1 000 people die of HIV-related causes every day.
Yet, despite these shocking statistics, only 45% of large South African businesses have an official HIV policy.
“Companies cannot afford to ignore the problem of HIV/Aids. It is crucial that they create an HIV policy that assists them in addressing the problem head-on,” says Nunn. “The workforce has to be educated about the disease, condoms have to be distributed, counselling and testing should be offered and sexually transmitted disease (STD) infection should be actively managed. A policy helps a company to set up and coordinate these initiatives.”
Dr Jenny Sapire, an occupational medical practitioner for Life Occupational Health, also emphasised the importance of addressing the HIV/Aids epidemic when trying to improve the health status of a company’s workforce.
“HIV/Aids is one of the leading impediments to worker health. Because of this, companies must strive to reduce the number of sero-conversions, as well as the number of progressors from HIV-positive status to deteriorating stage of HIV/Aids,” stated Sapire.
Sapire suggests accomplishing this by encouraging voluntary testing and counselling, incorporating HIV prevention and management into the general employee wellness programme and providing workers with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).