Some South African Employers to Begin Providing HIV/AIDS Drugs to Employees
Although the South African government has "declined to provide" anti-AIDS drugs to people in the nation's public health system, some of the nation's largest employers soon will begin offering the medications to their employees, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Nearly 20% of working-age South Africans have HIV, and many of the 4.7 million people infected with HIV cannot afford to purchase anti-AIDS drugs. AngloGold Ltd., the world's largest goldmining company, is one company that is preparing to provide some of its sick workers with antiretroviral drugs. About 30% of the company's 50,000 workers are believed to be infected with HIV. Through a pilot project, the company will focus on a few hundred miners to determine if it can administer medications on a broad scale. The project is also designed to evaluate how well workers are able to "bear up under the added stress of antiretroviral drugs."
AngloGold officials say that they hope the program will help to "persuade" workers to get tested for HIV; workers who test negative for the virus will be instructed how to prevent HIV/AIDS, and those workers who test positive for the virus but are found to be "asymptomatic" will receive medications and instructions on how to "slow the onset" of the disease. AngloGold has run a voluntary testing service for the last eight years, but few workers have taken advantage of the program, partly because they fear their testing information could be used against them. To counter those fears, AngloGold now assigns each person a number, rather than using names on medical files. Further, the company has assembled teams of peer educators to encourage workers to get tested. But some workers who do receive tests and find out that they are HIV-positive drop out of the company's wellness program and seek alternative treatments from traditional healers.
Cost-Effectiveness Will Determine Scale of Effort
Whether the pilot program is expanded to a wider scale depends on its cost-effectiveness, the Inquirer reports. AngloGold will spend an additional $7 million per year -- 0.1% of its revenue -- on AIDS treatment. The cost of anti-AIDS medications has been reduced by about five times its original price, but the drugs still remain out of reach for many workers. At the discounted rate, the drugs cost about $2 per day; miners make about $10 per day. Gavin Churchyard, head of AngloGold's health research unit said, "There's no quick fix here, but I do think we can turn it around. It's my opinion the cost of treatment is less than the cost of not intervening" (Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/29).
AIDS Helpline Now Available
In other South Africa AIDS treatment news, South African Health Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang today will launch a 24-hour AIDS helpline to provide free, confidential advice from trained counselors about disease risks and care in all 11 national languages. The Health Department initiative is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (South African Press Association, 7/30).
South African Bishops Oppose Condom Promotion
The South African Catholics Bishops Conference yesterday addressed the promotion of condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns during its plenary session in Pretoria. Conference Vice President Bishop Michael Coleman told SABC TV that this "pillar of the government's AIDS prevention strategy" sent the "wrong moral message to youth" and was also ineffective. "Condoms don't make a difference," he said, adding, "This country is saturated with condoms yet we have the highest rates of AIDS (transmission) in the world. Promoting condoms increases the incidence of AIDS." Coleman said that lifestyle changes and "mak[ing] human dignity of the utmost importance" were better strategies for curbing the spread of AIDS. However, the South African Press Association reports that the church is not opposed to the use of condoms between married partners to prevent the spread of HIV (South African Press Association, 7/30).