Fighting HIV/AIDS

The World Health Organization estimates that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 71 percent of the global population living with HIV.

Wall in Johannesburg - fight AIDS  graffiti wall

This is a highly disturbing statistic, not just for communities but also for businesses. In countries such as South Africa the disease is highly prevalent in the 15-49 year age group, which means it cripples the working population and has an effect on companies’ approach to risk management.

In 2002, Atlas Copco South Africa took the first step toward building what is now a comprehensive wellness program, with the focus on HIV/ AIDS. The program has since been expanded to cover Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is one of our strongest business cases, delivering increased workplace productivity and tangible financial savings while also helping to create a healthier society.

The results are outstanding. None of our staff who tested negative between 2007 and 2012 have tested positive since. An impact study by the Swedish Workplace HIV and AIDS Program estimated that without our intervention our costs could have surpassed ZAR 450 million as a result of recruitment and overtime costs, the supervisory load from high replacement rates, and the effect on retirement funds. In addition to raising awareness and education about HIV/ AIDS, the program has had to overcome the social stigma and prejudice that surround the disease. Despite these challenges, including the misconception that testing leads to contracting the disease, the initial uptake of voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) at Atlas Copco South Africa stood at 96 percent. With managers continuing to lead by example, the VCT uptake remains around 80 to 90 percent.

An unexpected but welcome bonus for staff has been the additional ZAR 1 million pumped into employee pensions due to lower insurance premiums. The Wellness program has shown clear returns in the form of decreased staff turnover and absenteeism leading insurance providers to class it as a successful risk management strategy and significantly reduce pension-related death and disability costs. In fact these savings outstrip the cost of the program itself.

The program is partly sponsored by SWHAP, which was initiated in 2004 by the International Council of Swedish Industry and the Swedish Industrial and Metal Workers’ Union IF Metall. It is a prime example of a successful public-private partnership that has lasted for more than a decade.