Businesses In Denial about HIV/AIDS

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By Desie Heita

Windhoek

A recent study has revealed that a number of companies in the private sector are still in denial about HIV/AIDS at the workplace, with several Namibian companies indicating their employees are highly educated and thus not at risk of being affected by HIV/AIDS.

“Misperception still exists about the disease not being a threat to the companies, for various reasons. In several instances this was coupled with perception that it is therefore the Government’s responsibility to address HIV and AIDS,” said the report, ‘Business Decision Makers’ Survey on HIV and AIDS: The Boardroom Speaks’.

The report was compiled by PricewatershouseCoopers, who conducted a survey among business leaders in Namibia. Companies that participated include Namibia’s multinationals, national companies and parastatals.

PricewatershouseCoopers said the issue of HIV/AIDS is yet to be given the prominence it needs by the business community in Namibia.

“A recent study conducted by our Private Companies Group indicated that 61 percent of the 200 private companies that participated considered the lack of a skilled workforce as the biggest threat to their growth and expansion – limited mention was made of HIV/AIDS despite the fact that 5 percent of the same companies mentioned HIV/AIDS as a challenge over the preceding 12 months,” said the report.

The UNAIDS rates the Southern Africa region as the highest affected region, with 32 percent of the world’s HIV/AIDS disease burden. Namibia’s prevalence rate is higher than the region’s average prevalence rate of 5.9 percent.

“It is clear that we, the business community, need to intensify our responses to HIV/AIDS. The question, however, is which responses and which models should we adopt,” said the report.

The study was aimed at establishing the extent to which Namibian businesses are successfully addressing HIV/AIDS. One of the key study areas was to establish whether companies knew the extent to which they are affected by HIV/AIDS.

The survey found that only 30 percent of the respondents had conducted HIV prevalence tests at their workplace. None of the companies that conducted prevalence tests recorded 100 percent participation from their employees, with participation ranging between 63 percent and 90 percent.

A portion of the respondents said they have HIV/AIDS workplace policies in place. An HIV/AIDS workplace policy is a company-guiding document with regard to the company’s response to the disease.

In its conclusion, the report said results from prevalence surveillance should be used by management to develop appropriate responses and should be used in strategic planning and risk management processes.

With regard to implementation of workplace policies, the report notes that “goodwill and intention appears to be present – the challenge is however in implementation”.

“Sporadic responses that are poorly planned and budgeted for typically affect policy implementation. It is therefore important that the policies that are developed take into consideration the necessary resources and systems that need to be implemented and these should be financed accordingly,” said the report.

The report also recommended that misperception about HIV/AIDS be addressed through improved information dissemination techniques that lay out the threat of the disease in a manner that the business world would appreciate.

“Despite [the denial at some Namibian companies], we believe that the business community in Namibia has begun to respond to HIV/AIDS in the workplace. The willingness of senior business executives to participate in the survey, and the level of interest displayed during the interviews, proved that there is a sense of growing commitment to wanting to improve the responses,” concluded the report.

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