August 11, 2005
De Beers Lauded for AIDS Outreach
The New York City-based Global Business Coalition, which groups 200 international companies fighting the impact of AIDS, said Aug. 9 that power utility Eskom, De Beers and miner Anglo American are global trendsetters in South Africa for their AIDS outreach, reports Reuters. "We are not yet doing enough to start winning the war, but Eskom, De Beers and Anglo American are at the very front edge of testing and treatment worldwide," said Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who heads GBC.
More than 6.5 million of South Africa's 47 million people may now be HIV positive, according to new figures. The government launched a public anti-retroviral campaign in 2003, the second largest worldwide after Brazil's. But the drugs haven't reached many, and companies have had to help battle the disease. Social stigma and denial are major challenges in the fight against the disease in South Africa, the country with the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.
Eskom, De Beers and Anglo have in the past few years stepped up efforts to test their workers for HIV and treat infected staff. They told Reuters that AIDS hurts businesses as workers die, requiring others to be hired and trained. Sickness results in lost working hours. Most workers who die are in the 30 to 50 age group, when they are at their most economically productive.
De Beers pays for anti-retroviral drugs for its HIV-infected workers and their infected spouses, even after the workers have left employment. At De Beers, about 10% of staff, or about 1,000 workers, are infected with the virus, according to Reuters. The firm's AIDS project is run in close collaboration the miners' union. "De Beers is a model in the mining industry. No other company gives anti-retroviral drugs to its workers and their spouses even after they leave employment," said Archie Palane, the National Union of Mineworkers' deputy general secretary. "In other companies, when a worker is found to have AIDS, they become among the first to go when retrenchments come."
A survey issued in April showed most mid-sized South African firms are turning a blind eye to HIV/AIDS despite forecasts the epidemic is set to ravage the country's workforce. Just half of business owners surveyed had a formal strategy to tackle AIDS, and of those, over a third had no one to oversee that policy, the Grant Thornton 2005 Business Owners Survey showed.