South African Industry Beginning to ‘Wake Up’ to Financial Impact of HIV/AIDS
Large businesses in South Africa are "waking up" to the fact that HIV/AIDS is driving up operating costs and beginning to hurt "the bottom line," Reuters reports. Several companies involved in the mining industry, which employs 400,000 South Africans, have recently launched broad HIV/AIDS programs (Chege, Reuters, 9/3). Last month, mining firm Gold Fields launched a new program offering antiretroviral treatment to its HIV-positive employees in South Africa, and mining conglomerate Anglo American 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, 8/14). "If we don't do anything about [HIV/AIDS], it will kill our businesses. We've got to make sure we're in business for another 100 years," Willie Jacobsz, a spokesperson for Gold Fields, said. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, businesses and health activists will meet later this year to announce a program to distribute antiretroviral drugs, but some questions regarding the role of businesses in treating HIV-positive workers remain. Although large mining companies may have the budgets and infrastructure to offer a broad treatment program, some other industries do not. Reuters reports that some companies have not disclosed that they provide antiretroviral treatment to employees for fear that they will "become soft targets for sick people who apply for jobs just to get the AIDS treatment."
Businesses and other AIDS advocates say that the South African government must also take steps to offer antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive individuals, and government officials "fear a showdown" with trade unions and activists over universal provision of antiretroviral drugs. Business officials say that the government should bear the responsibility of maintaining treatment for workers who retire or are laid off because discontinuation of such treatment could lead to a rise in drug-resistant strains of HIV. But government officials say that corporations may be assigning too much responsibility to the government. "The only caution we have is that the corporates must not impose an obligation on government which it does not have the capacity or budget (to meet)," Ayanda Ntsaluba, director general of the South African Health Ministry, said (Reuters, 9/3).