S.African mid-sized firms ignore HIV/AIDS - survey

Most mid-sized South African companies are turning a blind eye to HIV/AIDS despite forecasts the epidemic is set to ravage the country’s workforce, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Grant Thornton 2005 Business Owners Survey showed only 26 percent of medium-sized South African companies expect HIV/AIDS to be a serious constraint to business growth over the next five years.

Just half of owners surveyed in the country hardest hit by HIV/AIDS said they had a formal strategy in place to tackle the disease, and of those, over a third had no one to oversee that policy.

“Given the acknowledged impact that HIV/AIDS is having… it is disappointing that over the last three years, the survey has recorded very little change in the attitude of business owners in providing direct assistance to their employees,” said Lee-Anne Bac, head of Strategic Solutions at Grant Thornton.

According to the United Nations agency UNAIDS, South Africa struggles with the world’s biggest caseload of HIV/AIDS and experts say the disease is set to claim a huge part of the working-age population. About one in nine people in the country are infected.

Some bluechip companies have implemented HIV/AIDS policies for their staff, which include free testing, awareness training, condom distribution and healthcare.

But Thursday’s survey said smaller businesses were doing even less to help their employees than in previous years.

In 2003, 31 percent of business owners surveyed said they considered HIV/AIDS a serious threat to their business while 69 percent said they had a policy in place.

Of those business owners interviewed, many said they had already felt the impact of HIV/AIDS on their businesses through staff dying or taking increased sick leave. But most said they lacked the time, money and know-how to implement a strategy.

“For business of this size, it doesn’t seem like the owners are going to make a concerted effort to tackle the problem until it really starts having a major impact on the workforce, by which time it could be too late,” Bac said.

Grant Thornton surveyed 300 medium-sized businesses in South Africa that employ between 50 and 250 people.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.