Candid Comment:Fighting one of our own tyrants

Bidvest is an international services, trading and distribution company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), employing 106 000 people and operating on four continents. The organisation was conferred the second runner up in the ZNCC (Harare branch) Best Corporate  Social Responsibility HIV/Aids category.

Bidvest believes in good corporate citizenship and participates on the JSE Social Responsibility Index and the Carbon Disclosure Project.

A Bidvest Group HIV/Aids policy also guides businesses in developing appropriate programmes which are implemented within a decentralised structure. All Bidvest subsidiaries have various programmes in place, addressing both societal and environmental issues in their areas of operation to ensure responsible business practices and a sustainable future.

HIV/Aids continues to infect many Zimbabweans. Manica Zimbabwe appreciates that HIV/Aids is a major threat to its business and its future. The two major economic effects are a reduction in the labour supply and increased costs through expenditures for medical care, drugs, funeral expenses, lost time due to illness, recruitment and training costs.

In order to mitigate these effects, the company has special programmes based on prevention, care, support, and mitigation of the pandemic at its workplaces.

 

HIV/Aids policy

Central to Manica Zimbabwe’s workplace response to HIV/Aids is its workplace policy — a written statement of how the company intends to respond to and address the impact of HIV/Aids.

The policy conforms to international and national laws, policies and agreements and was drawn mainly from Statutory Instrument 202 of 1998 — the Labour (HIV and Aids) Regulations, the ILO Code of Practice on HIV and Aids and the World of Work and the National Policy of HIV and Aids for the Republic of Zimbabwe. Statutory Instrument 68 of 1990 — the National Social Security (Accident Prevention and Workers’ Compensation Scheme) Notice, 1990 — covering accident prevention, compensation for accidents in factory workplaces, as well as diseases contracted in the course of duty, including HIV/Aids was also consulted.

Existing HIV/Aids policies for the mining sector and transport operating industry had an influence on the Manica Zimbabwe HIV/Aids policy. The company has a stand-alone budget for HIV/Aids to fund its workplan.

 

Education and awareness

As part of its broader wellness initiatives, Manica Zimbabwe provides HIV/Aids-related training and awareness programmes. The training and awareness programmes equip workers with skills for personal risk assessment to prevent infection, and provide information on referral services and access to treatment, care and support including anti-retroviral therapy (Art).

Workforce and management are sensitised on strategies to reduce workplace discrimination and stigmatisation. The attendance level is high and is clear evidence that there is a hunger for information on strategies to cope with the many different ways that HIV is affecting the workforce and their families. Statutory Instrument 202 was distributed and explained to every employee. The statutory instrument is also displayed in every workplace and other conspicuous places.

A resource centre was established for use by employees at the Coventry Road head office. It carries a collection of books, pamphlets and other materials obtained from organisations such as PSI Zimbabwe, the National Aids Council (NAC), Harare Hospital and the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe/Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Global Fund project.

 

Peer group team

A team of nine employees from various divisions were trained as peer educators. The nine employees were chosen by their peers from their various divisions of the company.

Training was conducted by the Zimbabwe Institute of Systemic Therapy (Connect), PSI and New Life and focused on equipping the participants with counselling skills and critical information on HIV/Aids. A full time wellness officer coordinates the activities of the peer group team.

 

Voluntary counselling and testing

To encourage staff to get tested and to know their status, voluntary testing and counselling sessions were conducted by PSI at the head office in Harare and at Beitbridge branch in 2011. HIV prevalence rate was found to be at 12%. Assistance with accessing external counselling, public treatment and maintaining a healthy lifestyle was also provided. This exercise is done twice a year.

 

Condom distribution

Approximately 5 000 condoms were distributed in 2011. PSI Zimbabwe supplied the condoms and on-site demonstrations on use of the condoms were carried out by New Life. Condoms continue to be distributed at the Harare head office and throughout the company’s branch network across the country.

 

Herbal garden

A  herbal garden was established at  the   Coventry Road offices in partner ship with The Centre — a non-governmental organisation that specialises in HIV/Aids information and advocacy. Some of the herbs that have been planted include thyme, parseline, Chinese garlic, lavender, yarrow, southernwood, sting nettle, dandelion, tansy, aloe, comfrey and rosemary. These herbs help to boost immunity, improve nutrition, alleviate pain and other HIV-related complications.

 

Future focus

HIV/Aids is a complex issue that requires persistent work and creative initiatives to break down taboos and prejudices. For Manica Zimbabwe, it is a journey towards continuous improvement. Much of the company’s effort has so far focused on preventive measures. The company’s future focus will be on effective impact management.

Efforts to mitigate the impact of the epidemic need to move beyond basic information messages. This means devising strategies to ensure that 88% of the staff who are HIV negative remain that way, and those living positively are protected from discrimination and empowered to lead healthy and productive lives.

Isaac Mazanhi is the Manica Zimbabwe human resources manager.