HIV and AIDS and Business
Companies should take proactive action around HIV/AIDS and help their staff to know their
status or prepare to lose money and close their doors, according to Scott Billy, technical advisor for New Start voluntary HIV counselling and testing centres.
According to the Global Business Coalition more and more companies are taking action against
sudden HIV-related illnesses and concomitant absenteeism by promoting voluntary HIV testing.
UNAIDS estimates that over ninety percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS don’t know their
status. The UN body’s research indicates that many only learn of their status when they get sick or apply for insurance products that require them to go for an HIV test.
Companies that don't plan around HIV-AIDS lose revenue due to shortages of staff, which in
turn slow down production. In addition, companies suffer the impact of employees only finding out their status late in the course of the disease through increased absenteeism and sick leave. The prevalence rates and high cost of AIDS related deaths and absenteeism cripple the
company’s growth. If employees learn their status early – whether they test positive or negative
– they can stay healthy and productive longer. Companies can tackle the problem by strategically planning around HIV/AIDS, says Billy.
“While companies cannot force a person to take an HIV test, they can promote knowing your
status. The key is counseling and testing. Testing allows employees to learn their status. Counseling encourages HIV-positive employees to take the steps to stay healthy and
encourages HIV-negative employees to stay negative. Healthy employees mean lower costs to
companies through less absenteeism and less need to replace staff,” he says.
“Start by identifying the problem: a large percentage of workers are HIV positive without their knowledge. Step two is promoting know your status campaigns, and correcting the
misconception that if an employee tests positive they will lose their job. Step three is assuring your employees that the company does not want to know their HIV status. Without assurances
of total confidentiality, workers will not go for testing,” says Mr. Billy.
The Society of Family Health recently introduced a corporate voluntary counseling and testing service that runs along the same line as its established New Start centers. Professional
counsellors provide employees with anonymous counsellling and testing and New Start assists
companies in promoting a Know Your Status campaign. No names are taken and workers
usually are already familiar with New Start through its advertising campaign.
Women and HIV
Women have an important role to play in protecting themselves and their families by
encouraging their men to get tested for HIV or better yet, suggesting to their partner that they go together as a couple for HIV counseling and testing.
This is the word from Scott Billy, technical advisor for New Start, a network of voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT) centres in Cape Town, Durban, Musina, Bloemfontein and
Billy says that even a woman who already knows her HIV status should encourage her partner
to go for testing: “Just because you’re negative does not mean your husband is also negative or vice versa. Many couples don’t realize how common it is for one partner to be positive and the
other negative. We see many discordant couples at New Start centres.”
Billy also says that while most women feel powerless to “force” their men to undergo an HIV test
and know their HIV status, there are nonetheless a number of ways in which women can
influence their partners. Women have some “drastic” measures at their disposal – such as
withholding sex until the man knows his status – but there are more subtle ways of getting the
message across. Below are tips from Billy on how to encourage your man to go for testing:
? Remind him that his children’s health depends on it. Tell him that any couple
considering having a baby should both be tested for HIV so that they can avoid
transmitting HIV to the child during birth.
? Focus on the positive aspects of his knowing his status. Let him know that if you
find out early that you are HIV-positive, you can make lifestyle changes that allow you to
live long. If you find out you are HIV-negative, you can make sure you stay negative.
Whatever the result – HIV-positive or HIV-negative – learning your status, and learning
early, is the right choice.
? Let him know that it’s not because you don’t trust him. Many men don’t want to
even talk about testing because they know it will lead to arguments about infidelity.
Start the conversation by telling him that you don’t want to discuss infidelity and that you
want him to test because anyone who has sex even once could have HIV.
? Let him know that he can get tested anonymously. Research on testing in South
Africa shows that the number one reason men do not get tested is because they worry
that the services are not confidential. Let him know that New Start HIV counseling and
testing centres operate on a no-names-taken basis and only cost R25.
? Suggest couples counseling. New Start offers couples counseling services that allow
couples to receive specialized counseling aimed at helping couples come up with a plan
to live long and be strong, whatever the results of the HIV tests.
What is New Start?
New Start is a network of three HIV counseling and testing centers currently operating in Cape
Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Musina. At a New Start center, clients can meet with a professional trained HIV counselor, have an HIV test and get the result in 15
minutes. The New Start counselor will help the client come up with a plan to stay healthy and
live long and be strong, whether the client tests negative or positive. New Start services are anonymous – we don’t take your name – and confidential – nothing discussed at a New Start
centre will be disclosed. New Start is jointly funded by the South African and American
governments – by the National Department of Health and by the US Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC). New Start is managed by the Society for Family Health (SFH),
the people who bring you Lovers Plus and Trust condoms and the care female condom.
New Start also can bring everything needed to provide high quality VCT services on-site to
organizations such as workplaces, churches, NGOs or communities willing to host the service.
Mobile New Start will bring counselors, nurses and lab technologists and all materials needed
for VCT as well as provide marketing support to the mobile VCT partner to attract clients. Any
community or organization interested in mobile VCT services should contact their local New
Start and ask to speak with the Site Manager.
New Start has plans to expand nationwide through non-profit franchising – New Start will provide technical, quality control and financial support to organizations to allow them to open up
and manage their own New Start centre and mobile testing programme. For more information
on New Start contact Miriam Mhazo at Miriam@sfh.co.za or visit your nearest New Start centre:
New Start Centres
New Start Cape Town
Lower ground level
58 Strand Street
Tel: 021 425 5843
Fax: 021 425 9730
New Start Durban
Commercial City th16 Floor 40 Commercial Road
Tel: 031 305 6942
Fax: 031 305 6941
New Start Johannesburg
Marble Towers th17 Floor 208-212 Jeppe Street
Tel: 011 333 6868
Fax: 011 333 6869
New Start Bloemfontein
Room 203, Cuthberts Building
78 Maitlands Street
Tel. 051 4309595
New Start Musina
Health Information Centre
National Road (next to Fire Brigade) Musina
Tel. 015 5343219
All New Start centres are open 8:00-18:00 Monday-Friday and 8:00-14:00 on Saturday. No
appointment is needed. Cost is R25 but anyone without R25 will be offered service free of
charge. For more information on New Start please go to www.newstart.co.za.
New Start is a network of HIV counseling and testing centres, currently operating in
Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Musina. Each centre also