Debswana to Pay 90% of AIDS Drugs Costs for Employees

March 8, 2001

Debswana to Pay 90% of AIDS Drugs Costs for Employees

Debswana, a diamond mining company jointly owned by De Beers and the government of Botswana, announced it will subsidize the cost of antiretroviral treatments for HIV-positive employees and their infected spouses. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

"The company will pay 90% of these costs for the employee and one legally married spouse who is HIV-positive for as long as the employee remains with Debswana," the company said. Children of employees and other dependents are not covered. The company also will subsidize the cost of monitoring the concentration of HIV virus in the body and pay for blood tests that determine the extent of damage to the immune system.

The news comes amid pressure on the worldwide pharmaceutical industry to offer AIDS drugs at costs Africans can afford. This week, giant Merck announced it would cut the price of its drugs, and several generic AIDS drugs are on offer also.

Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 70% of the world's total number of people who are HIV-positive, almost 25 million people. Botswana is particularly hard hit, with more than one-third of adults infected, a total of 300,000 people. In the past decade, average life expectancy there has plummeted from the mid-60s to 39 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Debswana employs 6,000 people at its three mines, head office and a diamond valuing subsidiary. Diamond revenue accounts for 80% of Botswana's export earnings and half of its government revenue. Debswana's mines produce 40% by value of the diamonds sold by the Diamond Trading Company, part of the De Beers group. Botswana is the world's largest producer of diamonds by value.

- by Peggy Jo Donahue