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HIV/Aids continues to ravage communities worldwide, with South Africa and Africa as a whole being among the most afflicted regions. AECI recognises that people are a crucial asset and as such the Company is committed to their health and safety. Minimising the effects of this pandemic is an important element of the Company’s strategy.

Interventions are concentrated in three main areas:

  • prevention against infection, with training and awareness-raising being the main components. A multi-faceted approach is employed, including seminars, newsletters, intranet-based quizzes and plays. Condoms are provided to employees at no cost to them;
  • Voluntary Counselling and Testing is available to employees and they are encouraged to make use of the service. This provides an opportunity for one-on-one discussions, tailored to the needs of the individual; and
  • treatment for HIV-positive employees. Most of the Company’s employees and their dependants are members of medical aids and as such have access to the “Aid for AIDS” programme. The programme provides a practical, comprehensive and caring structure within which infected individuals can receive the best possible care.

A recent knowledge and perception survey showed that a significant stigma is still associated with being HIV-positive. As a result, infected individuals frequently put off testing and treatment until they are already seriously ill. Once this stage is reached, recovery to a reasonable level of health may take a substantial period of time, and is sometimes impossible.

In a bid to deal with this stigma, a comprehensive wellness programme has been launched. Rather than focusing separately on HIV/Aids, wellness is catered for in a holistic way. Other conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer are included, together with lifestyle matters such as diet and exercise.

The role of HIV/Aids peer educators has been extended and they now work as Champions of Wellness, encouraging their colleagues to take better care of their health. To facilitate and foster this, wellness steering committees have been established and are functioning at Group level and in the operating companies.

In 2006 an external party assessed the impact that HIV/Aids is expected to have on the Group. The HIV prevalence among AECI employees was expected to peak at 9,8 per cent in 2007, and to fall to 9,6 per cent in 2008, declining gradually thereafter. Costs attributable to HIV/Aids were estimated to be R14 million (in 2005 money) for 2008. These costs arise from paid sick leave, productivity losses, training and replacement expenses, disability processing expenses, and medical and funeral expenses. They do not include costs associated with the life and disability insurance benefits provided by the Group. These costs are not expected to rise significantly in the coming years.