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HIV/Aids and company health risk

WHAT makes a company CEO or owner of a business, big or small, decide to have an HIV/Aids programme for their company?

David Mutambara

How much resources would he/she outlay for that programme?  How is he/she going to measure the value addition of the programme to the business?

These are the questions which haunt business leaders in deciding on the nature and extent of HIV/Aids programmes they would like to run or are running.  A significant number of business executives and owners hardly spare a thought for fighting HIV/Aids in their work place.

The HIV/Aids drive has been strong and pushed from a social agenda.

The main focus even for the work place was the plight of the worker.  This has relegated HIV/Aids to a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.  Is it?  Is there more to HIV/Aids to business than CSR for the benefit of the employees?

A quick look at the value statements shows all of them refer to people.  No value refers to machines or to production processes but to people. This will lead to the conclusion business realises and appreciates the central role people play in achieving set objectives.

The irony of this is people become assets for the company and not human beings through which every business will realise its objectives and increase shareholder value. Whilst this is well stated by all companies its implications are not fully realised.

If people are the key asset to business the question is what is business investing to preserve their asset value?  The other side to this is the question: Are the human assets being sweated enough to realise their true value?

For business to justify its existence two questions need to be asked.  Is the business viable? And is the business sustainable?  Businesses exist in an environment in which they are in constant competition with other similar entities.  To survive they must out-play the competition.

A good human resource pool is capable of sailing through the vagaries of both business and competition.

HIV/Aids is a real threat to retaining human resources in business.  It does not discriminate on the basis of skills and competencies of the infected staff.

This loss is by choice, it is both unnecessary and avoidable. Research has shown if a person is infected at as young an age as 25 and manages their health well, they can live up to 72 years.  This is long after the official retirement age. The implications of this research are that every employee can continue to give their full productive potential irrespective of their HIV status as long as they manage their condition.

To protect the business from the impact of HIV/Aids, business leaders need to position HIV/Aids as a strategic issue for business survival.  Otherwise the business will not comprehensively address the condition.

If they consider HIV/Aids  as a strategic issue they should put in place a strategic response which should be guided by the following areas:

Knowing the quantum of the risk – the company preference rate;
Identifying the risk entry points;
Defining the risk mitigation strategy and;
Ensuring a viable structure and infrastructure to address the risk.

A comprehensive Wellness Programme should not only address disease conditions of the employees but also the social, psychological and physical conditions which impact on employees’ health.  The company should promote a healthy work environment which will include healthy eating as well as psychosocial support.

Mutambara is the executive director Zimbabwe Business Council on Aid. He can be contacted on mutambarad@zbca.co.zw

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