De Beers Diamond Company to Subsidize Antiretroviral Drugs for Employees in South Africa
Diamond mining "giant" De Beers today announced that it will subsidize 90% of the cost of antiretroviral medications for its 11,000 employees and their spouses in South Africa, the Associated Press reports. The move makes the company the "latest major business" in the region to provide subsidized treatment for HIV/AIDS (Nessman, Associated Press, 8/12). Last week, mining conglomerate Anglo American, which owns a stake in De Beers, announced that it would provide antiretroviral treatment to all of its HIV-positive employees in southern Africa who are not already receiving treatment under current medical plans (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/6). De Beers Managing Director Gary Ralfe said that the company decided to provide the subsidy for its beneficiaries because the South African government has not stepped in to provide antiretroviral therapy. He added that the company's move was "essentially a strong humanitarian and moral statement" and called the South African government's attitude toward HIV/AIDS "ambivalent" at best and "pusillanimous" at worst. De Beers administrators estimate that 12% of the company's employees are HIV-positive. The program, which is scheduled to begin in January 2003, will cost approximately $2,500 per participant (Associated Press, 8/12).
Reaction to Anglo American's Plan Continues
Reaction continued last week to Anglo American's announcement that it will provide antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive employees in southern Africa who are not covered under other medical plans, BBC News reports. "We're very pleased," Vukani Mde, spokesperson for COSATU, a trade union group, said, adding, "Awareness programs are all very well, but someone had to take the initiative to do something." Hein van der Walt, director of COFESA, an employers' federation, said that the policy "sets a great example" for other firms. However, he pointed out that antiretroviral treatment is "not really the responsibility" of employers and should be provided by the government.
Not the Solution
South Africa's Business Day newspaper said in an editorial that the move will "tie staff even more securely to the firm." The editorial stated, "There is also the ethical question of what happens when workers receiving antiretroviral therapy free of charge lose their jobs or can no longer work and have to return to their homes, often far from Anglo's mines." Rival mining company BHP Billiton also questioned the treatment scheme. "You don't approach the problem by throwing drugs at it. You know it can't cure you -- it simply extends the life and has to be administered in a carefully planned way," CEO Brian Gilbertson said. BHP has "resisted" calls to provide antiretroviral therapy to its workers, saying the costs could "spiral out of control," according to BBC News. BHP said that HIV prevalence among its workers is about half of the rate among Anglo's employees because BHP does not employ as many migrant workers (BBC News, 8/8).