HIV/AIDS remains the number one cause of death among South Africans between 15 and 50 years old. Since this includes most of SA's working population, World Aids Day provides an opportunity each year to reflect on the status of the fight in the workplace against the epidemic.
The battle against HIV/Aids is a major part of the government's health strategy, which supports the global UN health theme for the next five years, namely, "Getting to Zero" - aimed at eliminating new HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections.
"If South Africa is to achieve a zero rate of HIV infection in the workplace, corporates need to align themselves with the initiatives and programmes that the government is running, and even be a step ahead, evolving innovative approaches to managing the epidemic where they can," says Dr Lerato Motshudi of Alexander Forbes Health.
"With a R21.5 billion health budget, the government is clearly the heavyweight in the fight against HIV/Aids. Yet even when the contribution of private companies to their employees' awareness and treatment initiatives is factored in, figures show that the tide has yet to be turned - in the reduction of new infections and in improved treatment.
"Certainly, from an organisational perspective, since HIV/Aids gives rise to a lot of death and disability claims, any strategy aimed at managing the pandemic needs to reduce claims and successfully manage infected employees back to work. The Department of Labour's white paper, Code of Good Practice for Key Aspects of HIV and Aids in the World of Work, broadly envisions every corporation having an HIV strategy achieving just this, but its prescriptions remain broad.
"For example, although it stipulates that all employees should have access to medical care, no detail is provided on the depth or extent of this care."
Motshudi says that although the white paper lacks detail in many areas, it does push the boundaries of what it means to be an employee by including former employees, applicants and contractors as beneficiaries of corporate HIV/Aids management policies.
What is also clear from the white paper is that the law will soon make it mandatory for all government and private organisations …