SA businesses have increasingly noticed the importance of fighting HIV

Thomas McLachlan

Thomas McLachlan

South African businesses, through their corporate wellness programmes, are playing an increasing role in the country's battle against HIV-Aids as yearly costs of the pandemic are running into the billions, according to medical aid scheme Discovery.

Discovery Vitality deputy- general manager Craig Nossel said that South African companies were increasingly investing in HIV-Aids treatment programmes for staff because they were acutely aware of the high costs of the pandemic.

He was speaking ahead of World Aids Day today.

"Absenteeism [costs] directly related to HIV-Aids are already running at R2billion yearly, he noted, adding that higher infection rates and the loss of productivity were issues that employers were grappling with and it made sense for them to get involved.

South Africa has the highest HIV infection rate and prevalence in the world, with as many as 1700 people infected every day.

About 6,5 million people in South Africa live with the disease. The South African Business Coalition on HIV-Aids (Sabcoha) statistics reveal that the mining, manufacturing and transport sectors have been hardest hit by the pandemic in the year to September last year, crippling productivity and leading to a dip in profits.

"Wellness programmes are the natural frontline in the battle against the disease. Where better to engage and help people with HIV than where they come to work everyday?" said Nossel.

While large corporates have been commended for their implementation of HIV-Aids and wellness programmes, Sabcoha said small companies needed to do a lot more.

Nossel pointed out that the benefits of wellness programmes to a company included reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and lower medical costs.

South Africa's economy is projected to be 9 percent smaller in 2020 than it would have been without the Aids epidemic, should preventative measures be ignored.

This was according to a report by the Bureau for Economic Research released this year.