Updated 06 October 2014

Aids at the office

HIV/Aids is rife in the workplace and economists reckon it will cost the South African economy billions. Whether you are an employer or an employee, you can make a difference.

HIV/Aids is rife in the workplace and could cost the South African economy billions. Whether you are an employer or an employee, you can make a difference.

Recent studies indicate that HIV infection rates among the employed and affluent are higher than expected, and increasing. Add to this statistics indicating that over 16 percent of South African adults are HIV-positive, and the outlook is very bleak.

Chances are someone at your workplace is infected
With an estimated 6.6 million HIV-positive South Africans, chances are that someone at your workplace is infected. Furthermore, ignoring the reality of HIV/Aids in the workplace may turn out to be very costly for employers – as absenteeism increases due to ill health, employees die and new employees have to be trained.

A number of companies have recognized the threat and proactively put in place HIV programmes. According to the World Economic Forum, South African companies are leading the response to HIV/Aids in Africa.

"Most large companies provide antiretroviral treatment for employees – via medical aid schemes or in-house provision. Contract workers and employees of smaller companies generally don't have this access and need to rely on the state system," said David Dickinson, a senior lecturer in HIV/AIDS in the Workplace, at Wits Business School.

And with approximately two thirds of employed South Africans working at companies with 200 or fewer employees (according to an article in the Financial Mail), and the government's rollout of antiretroviral treatment lagging, huge challenges remain.

A survey done by the Bureau of Economic Research at the University of Stellenbosch indicated that many smaller companies find it easy to replace unskilled workers, reports The Economist. Other factors preventing small businesses implementing workplace HIV/Aids programmes include lack of information and fear of high cost.

Excellent resources for small businesses
Fortunately, there are a number of excellent resources and support mechanisms available for businesses looking to implement workplace HIV programmes – helping you with anything from peer education and accurate HIV/Aids information, to case studies and posters to put up in the workplace.

So, whether you are an employer concerned about your workforce, or an employee concerned about HIV/Aids among your peers, the following links will hopefully get you started on your way to making a difference:

HIV/Aids Centre's HIV/Aids Centre contains all the information you may need concerning the medical side of HIV/Aids.

The South African Business Coalition on HIV and Aids (SABCOHA) provides an excellent resource on the official Red Ribbon website. SABCOHA also provides a tool kit containing all the basics needed to get a workplace HIV/Aids programme off the ground.

ILO code of practice
The international Labour Organisation (ILO) provides an excellent guide for businesses looking to develop an HIV/Aids policy and comprehensive workplace HIV/Aids programmes. See the official ILO website

Family Health International
See the official website of Family Health International (FHI) for their guide: "Workplace HIV/Aids programs: An action guide for managers."

Visit Health24’s HIV/Aids Centre


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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