Monday, 25 July 2011

Turning the tide against HIV/Aids

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Support for HIV/Aids infected employees, as well as education on how to deal with and prevent HIV/Aids, has been standard practise at Sappi for seventeen years already. South Africa’s leading pulp and paper manufacturer has been offering its support to HIV/Aids-infected employees, since 1991 when it first established an HIV/Aids policy and subsequently updating this policy in 2003. With the overall HIV prevalence of the workforce standing at 14,4% (approximately half of the estimated national HIV prevalence rate of 28%), Sappi has reason to be proud of its HIV/Aids programmes.
Seeking to minimise the social, economic, development and health consequences to the group and people, the policy commits Sappi to providing effective resources and leadership for the implementation of HIV/Aids programmes across all its operations in Southern Africa.

These programmes provide extensive prevention, treatment and support and aim to minimise stigma – an obstacle to participation in voluntary counselling and testing. Programmes are managed in accordance with Sappi’s overall HIV/Aids policy, but are modified to suit the needs of each particular business unit and socio-economic circumstances such as low literacy levels. Ongoing Knowledge, Attitude and Practices studies conducted at operating units ensure that HIV/Aids programmes remain relevant to the needs of each unit.
Knowledge of HIV status is well recognised as a key intervention for mobilising individuals to take personal responsibility for containing the spread of HIV infection. There has been a steady, significant increase in the uptake of VCT to 28% since it was first initiated in 2000. Currently 47% of the predicted HIV-positive Sappi employees are registered on a HIV/Aids managed care programme.

HIV-infected permanent employees have been offered anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment from the beginning of 2003. As effective ARV treatment depends on strict medication compliance, a variety of methods are used to assess compliance and a process of counselling is followed if the patient does not comply with the treatment. The Government of Swaziland operates an anti-retroviral treatment programme for all HIV/Aids patients, therefore our Usutu Mill in Swaziland is focused on providing the resources for counselling, blood sampling and administration of medication for employees, their families and the broader community in order to ensure the sustainability of the programme.

André Oberholzer, Group Head of Corporate Affairs at Sappi Limited points out the group looks further than its own immediate operations in combating the pandemic. “Recognising that our HIV/Aids workplace programmes will only be truly effective if extended beyond the boundaries of our immediate operations, we extend support and counselling services to the families of employees. We have established partnerships with various role players, including the Government, non-governmental organisations and other national and provincial bodies in order to implement comprehensive HIV/Aids programmes, eliminate duplication and make optimum use of the available but limited resources. In 2005, we also joined the Global Business Coalition (GBC) on HIV/Aids, a global partnership focused on developing an integrated strategy for dealing with the disease.”
A major strategic focus for Sappi is identifying external risks in order to contain the spread of the epidemic and reduce the risk to our employees. Of our Corporate Social Responsibility budget in South Africa, R3.2 million is allocated to HIV outreach programmes.
The outreach programmes include:
• Nominated Sappi employees trained as peer educators target high-risk groups through education programmes, distribute condoms in their specific zones and refer high-risk patients for treatment at clinics. The ratio of peer educators to employees is 1:50, although this is not consistent across the group, as it varies according to the risk profile of each particular group. The number of contacts made by each peer educator is increasing steadily as indicated in the graph below. They have also formed support groups for HIV-positive employees at Usutu and Tugela Mills.
Support for the Blessed Gerard’s Care Centre in the Mandini area near Sappi’s Tugela Mill in KwaZulu Natal, funded by a US government initiative. To ensure sustainability and uniformity of the treatment programme in the area, Sappi makes an annual financial contribution to the centre. Sappi employees who qualify for antiretrovirals (ARVs) are incorporated into the centre’s HIV/Aids drug readiness courses which are based on the ‘buddy’ system and treatment is provided for employees’ partners who qualify for treatment. This system has proved to be very effective in maintaining adherence to the ARV treatment programme.
• Support for Wethemba KwaJesu centre situated in the town of Stanger near Stanger Mill in KwaZulu Natal. Wethemba KwaJesu’s services include access to voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), training of volunteers and assistance with ARV roll out – specifically treatment literacy and adherence.
• We have successfully implemented an employee wellbeing (EWB) lay-counsellor project in terms of which lay counsellors work under the supervision of the EWB manager at each unit are responsible for education, understanding and compliance, as well as diet advice. This project has been successfully implemented at Ngodwana and Cape Kraft Mills and will be extended to Tugela and Usutu Mills in the near future.
• Our strategic focus on identifying environmental risks that could lead to the increase in the prevalence of HIV in the company has led to the community project at Ngodwana Mill where an informal settlement situated at Elandshoek has been identified as a gap in the system. We are investigating the possibility of establishing a private public partnership in this area and expect to make an announcement in this regard soon.

Oberholzer sums up Sappi’s approach, “The 2007 National HIV and Syphillis Prevalence Survey South Africa, indicates that while HIV/Aids prevalence is gradually declining, it continues to present a challenge to the country and that the Southern African region still has the highest rate of infection in the world. We cannot afford to be complacent and we will intensify our efforts to turn the tide of HIV/Aids by driving knowledge and awareness and building on our established partnerships with government and community organisations.”


'Graphs provided on request'

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