Are we winning the HIV-war?

South Africa has made massive strides in combating HIV/AIDS, but there’s a long way to go. Company wellness days and routine HIV-testing can help fight the epidemic.

A new survey by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) found that there has been a significant decline in the HIV incidence rate over the past five years. Though there were an estimated 231,100 new HIV infections in the country in 2017, this number is 44% lower than the incidence rate reported in 2012.

But despite massive leaps in the fight against HIV and AIDS, the disease still kills nearly two people every minute across the globe. And South Africa is the hardest hit: 7.9 million people are HIV-positive, but only about half take antiretrovirals regularly enough to render them non-infectious, says a study published in the Lancet medical journal last year.

The United Nations recommends the 90/90/90 goal in order to stop the spread of the disease and end the epidemic by 2030: 90% of people need to get tested for HIV, 90% of those tested positive need to take antiretrovirals, and 90% of those taking it need to take it properly so they are not infectious. Currently, South Africa’s stats are 86/65/81.

The biggest barriers to reaching these goals are access and education, shows another study by the HSRC. Though most people are aware of HIV, they don’t realise that the regular use of modern antiretrovirals increases the life expectancy of an HIV-positive 20 year-old from 39 to almost 70 – a full and healthy life. And though most people can get tested at free clinics, the constant queues and fear of being stigmatised prevents them from doing so.

That’s why workplace wellness days with routine counselling and testing can play a significant role in fighting the epidemic. Workplace education programmes have been shown to increase willingness to test, reduce stigma and improve morale of workers affected by the disease.

For employers worried about the bottom line, it makes financial sense too: A study published in the African Journal of Agricultural Research showed that the impact of AIDS-related absenteeism, productivity decline, and recruitment and training expenses could cut profits by up to 8%.

As the year winds down and the inevitable productivity slump sets in, a wellness day including routine testing can be the perfect antidote – to both company spirits and health.

(Additional sources: One.org, Sunday Times, Avert.org)

Impact of testing and treatment on absenteeism

A study of the African economies most affected by HIV/AIDS showed that HIV testing and the administration of antiretrovirals had a significant positive impact on worker absenteeism. In the year before testing, HIV-positive workers missed around 20 work days. One year after they started taking antiretrovirals, absenteeism dropped to the same levels as those of HIV-negative workers. (Journal of Human Resources, 2009)

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Delia du Toit

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