Wall Street Journal Examines Brewing Company SABMiller’s Campaign To Increase HIV Testing Among Its South African Employees
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined a campaign by the international brewing company SABMiller to increase HIV testing among the employees at its manufacturing plant in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to the Journal, SABMiller five years ago faced the prospect of losing about 15% of its South African work force by 2008 -- including "difficult-to-replace" trained machine operators, sales people and truck drivers -- to AIDS-related illnesses. Although the company was paying for HIV-positive employees' antiretroviral drugs, dispensing condoms at no cost in facility restrooms and showing HIV/AIDS education videos at employee training sessions, more than 75% of its staff would not agree to be tested for HIV, the Journal reports. In response to the situation, SABMiller hired the Johannesburg-based consulting firm Lifeworks to produce a marketing plan aimed at achieving an 80% testing rate among its employees. "The key was to gain confidence that the tests were confidential and employees' medical details" would be kept confidential, Lifeworks CEO Sean Jelley said. The plan offered incentives for workers who received HIV tests, including T-shirts and raffles for radios and televisions. The group also recruited peer educators, who hold mandatory small group sessions during work hours to discuss the myths surrounding HIV/AIDS. The results of the campaign are "promising," the Journal reports. All 283 employees at the Johannesburg plant have signed up to undergo HIV tests, and the majority of SABMiller's plants have a 60% to 70% testing rate, compared with a 50% testing rate at the company's head office. The company also plans to conduct testing and educational campaigns among its employees' spouses. SABMiller has not revealed how much it is spending on HIV prevention efforts but "insists the fight is worth" the cost, the Journal reports. According to SABMiller's chief AIDS officer Jenni Gillies, "It is more cost-effective to treat the employee and his dependents than to lose the employee." She also said the company might lose less than 5% of its work force to AIDS-related illnesses this year (Echikson/Cohen, Wall Street Journal, 8/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.