british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2009 - HIV and AIDS in South Africa

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SUSTAINABILITY REPORT 2009

South Africa is experiencing some of the worst impacts of HIV and AIDS. More than 5.8 million people are HIV positive with an average prevalence rate of 12 per cent. Twenty per cent of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 are infected. Annually, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are between 400,000 and 500,000.

For the last seven years, British American Tobacco South Africa has been running an HIV/AIDS programme for its employees and their families which focuses on education, voluntary testing and counselling, and providing care and support to affected employees.

One of the many challenges the company faced was denial and reluctance of HIV positive people to register on the programme because of a perceived stigma and fear of victimisation.

To address this, the focus was broadened in 2006 into an integrated well-being programme, based on personal lifestyle choices. This shift helped position HIV/AIDS as a serious and chronic but manageable disease, as opposed to a stigmatised one, and helped employees and their families to understand that by being part of the programme, they would be better able to manage their risk.

The programme has to date been a success and in 2009, over 80 per cent of employees participated in the Wellbeing Campaign, with around 70 per cent of all employees voluntarily testing for HIV. There has been a welcome increase in employees registering on the company HIV treatment and care programme and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has commended the company on its work.

A lot has been learned since the programme began, including that interventions must first and foremost be aimed at prevention, supplemented by treatment and care, and that education and awareness should be aimed at all levels of employees, including management. It is also now clear that positioning HIV as a serious long term chronic illness, alongside other health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index, will reduce the stigma associated with it.