Some South African Corporations ‘Coming To Grips’ With HIV, Providing Free Antiretroviral Drugs to HIV-Positive Employees
As the corporate world is "slowly coming to grips with the cost of HIV," several corporations operating in South Africa are providing free antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive employees in an effort to minimize the financial toll of the epidemic on their businesses and the country's economy, NPR's "All Things Considered" reports. According to NPR, many companies could lose up to one-third of their work force to HIV/AIDS, and last year 250,000 South Africans, most in their prime earning years, died of AIDS-related causes. Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said that corporations are "just starting" to see the effects of HIV/AIDS on their bottom lines. "The reality is that the public sector in most countries is not even beginning to deliver [treatment] services, and therefore, corporations, either for self-interest or because of good corporate citizenship, need to stand forward and start to do things for themselves," Feachem said (Beaubien, "All Things Considered," NPR, 5/7). South Africa's largest mining company, AngloGold, in November 2002 began distributing antiretroviral drugs to a few of its HIV-positive employees as part of a plan to distribute the drugs free of charge to all of its HIV-positive staff in Southern Africa (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/18/02). "Really what drove this overall is the moral ethic to provide antiretrovirals. You can't withhold treatment that is shown to help a condition," Dr. Petra Kruger, who runs AngloGold's HIV/AIDS program, said. However, NPR reports that "it was also a matter of economics," as executives at AngloGold and BMW realized that it is less expensive to treat HIV among current employees than to replace thousands of sick and dying workers. BMW began providing free HIV/AIDS medications to workers at its assembly plant outside Pretoria two years ago and encourages employees to be tested for HIV, according to Dr. Natalie Myeth, the occupational health physician at the factory. "HIV is a manageable disease. It should be no different to your diabetes, to your hypertension," Myeth said ("All Things Considered," NPR, 5/7). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
Corporate Treatment Programs Are 'Catastrophic Mistakes,' Study Says
South African workplace HIV/AIDS treatment programs are making "catastrophic mistakes" and may be doubling the cost of the epidemic on business, according to a study conducted by consulting firm FutureForesight and the Wits Health Consortium, U.N. IRIN reports. Audits of employees from several companies that provide HIV/AIDS treatment found that 55% of audited patients were not visiting their doctor for monitoring and testing and 32% were failing therapy and developing resistance to the drugs, placing a "substantial productivity burden" on their company, the study says. The report found that while some employees who were receiving treatment were in advanced stages of HIV infection, about 60% of the employees on antiretroviral drugs should not yet have received treatment due to the drugs' increased efficacy in later stages of the disease. "Thus, most employees currently being treated in (South Africa) are not examples of a cost saving, but examples of cost doubling -- treatment plus the past productivity losses," the report states. According to the study, the timing of antiretroviral treatment is "critical" and early identification of HIV-positive employees through voluntary counseling and testing could realize savings in lost productivity. The study also recommends improved clinical management of HIV and follow-up with patients, adding that corporate treatment programs would not produce any savings unless the clinical management was "good enough to keep the employee healthy and productive." Chris Barker of FutureForesight said, "What people don't realize is that this situation could implode and all these well-meaning interventions could undermine treatment" (U.N. IRIN, 5/7).