Stephen Timm, Business Report
But Faith Mashele, who has lost six employees and 20 family members to the disease, is not one of them. Mashele runs Sizakhile Fashions, a small company making corporate wear. She said the syndrome affected productivity levels, as she would book sick employees off for weeks. A counsellor from the Aurum Institute for Health Research, a non-profit health management organisation, recently conducted a seven-day HIV/AIDS awareness programme in her workplace. Mashele said the workshops were the best thing to happen to her business, as almost all of her employees went for voluntary testing, including Mashele herself. I started by saying that I have to do it first, so that everyone can follow.
At first she battled to find the time to put her 63 employees through the workshop, but one day Mashele found herself between contracts and called up Aurum. She said previous workshops had failed to make an impact because they only lasted a day. A survey last year by the health economics research unit of the University of the Witwatersrand found that almost one in seven employees had HIV or AIDS at the 150 small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) it studied. But Threshold Consulting's Kevin Joubert, who runs workplace programmes on HIV/AIDS for SMEs, said these businesses were in most cases focused on just trying to stay afloat. Joubert suggested that small enterprises stick to raising awareness rather than funding more costly prevention or treatment programmes. He added that businesses could contact non-governmental organisations for free or affordable workshops and make use of the public health service for treatment of their employees. Kuku Appiah, the director of the SME project at Aurum, said the success of a workplace HIV/AIDS awareness programme often rested on the knowledge and goodwill of business owners. Appiah said it was important for managers to show leadership by getting themselves tested first. The organisation is assisting 40 small enterprises in Selby, Johannesburg, to implement HIV/AIDS programmes in their workplaces. Counsellors visit the businesses on a weekly basis and talk with employees in small groups on how they can reduce their risk.
The training is funded by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Appiah said the companies had been very receptive. A number of them had already been talking to their employees about HIV/AIDS before the programme started. She said business owners in the Johannesburg area could make use of the Zuzimpilo Clinic, where antiretroviral treatment and counselling were provided for up to R350 a month per person. Brad Mears, the chief executive of the SA Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (Sabcoha), said employers should construct a budget before setting up a prevention plan with workshops, condoms and posters. They could follow this up by introducing access to voluntary testing, counselling and treatment. He proposed that every company should set up a policy on HIV/AIDS. Such a policy should outline the company's position on poor performance due to ill health, confidentiality of one's HIV status, the rights of an infected employee and how, if the company can afford it, an employee can access healthcare.
Mears cautioned that a business should offer only what it could and not spend money on programmes or treatment that it could not afford. Businesses aren't charitable organisations, so you can't run yourself down to the bone and then go out of business, he said. Sabcoha has a resource list of contacts and assistance for small employers, which can be found at www.sabcoha.org.za. It distributes a toolkit to small companies. It is also available to corporates to pass on to their small suppliers. The toolkit contains information on how to set up a workplace HIV/AIDS awareness programme, with resources such as posters, manuals, brochures and a video. It is aimed at businesses with 50 to 250 employees, but Mears said that if push came to shove it could be used by smaller companies. Sabcoha also runs a two-day awareness programme called BizAIDS, aimed at spaza shops and enterprises with 10 or fewer employees.