AIDS Takes its Toll on Industries. 14/10/10

R2.4bn paid out in insurance claims, while employers foot the premiums

Business Report

By Mzwamdile Jacks and Slindile Khanyile
14 October 2010

The Mining, transport, heavy construction, agriculture and fishing industries are bearing the brunt of Aids-related deaths, which triggered a total R2.4 billion in insurance claims this year. The costs pass directly through to the employers in the premiums they pay for group life insurance benefits.

According to the Department of Health, 5.7 million people are infected with HIV and about 1 million receive antiretroviral (ARV) drugs from the state.

But companies have not left the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids to the government. They have initiatives to assist employees and their families in dealing with the disease

Internal wellness programmes include voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), awareness campaigns and support structures. These include allowing workers to take time off from work in order to recuperate without forfeiting their salaries, even in cases where employees have exhausted their sick leave.

The chairman of the Actuarial Society task force on retirement reform, Colin Dutkiewicz, said the amount could have reached R3 billion had it not been for the country's current ARV rollout programme.

"This means there are now fewer death claims from insurance companies and fewer people being absent from work."

The health industry's Aids-related death costs have reached 1.1 percent of salary costs, while non-Aids deaths are 0.8 percent, totalling 1.9 percent for the sector.

Retail and education's Aids-related death costs stand at 1.6 percent and non-Aids deaths at 1 percent, reaching 2.6 percent in total.

Transport's Aids-related death costs were 2.4 percent and non-Aids deaths were 1.3 percent, totalling 3.7 percent.

Heavy construction's Aids-related death costs were 3.4 percent, while non-Aids deaths were 2.5 percent, totalling 5.9 percent.

Mining's Aids-related death costs were 3.4 percent, while non-Aids deaths were 2.8 percent, totalling 6.2 percent.

Aids-related death costs in agriculture and fishing were 2.9 percent and non-Aids deaths were 1.2 percent, totalling 4.1 percent.

Corporate efforts that have been effective include Standard Bank's wellness programme introduced in 2001. Peter Philip, the bank's head of corporate health, said the programme looked at a number of infectious diseases and trauma counselling, but it also had a strong focus on HIV/Aids.

"It makes business sense because anything that affects our staff will impact productivity."

Standard Bank estimates that for every year that a senior staff member remains productive, it saves about R300 000 and this rises to R750 000 for middle managers.

Anglo American's HIV/Aids response has focused on having everyone know their HIV/Aids status. "Eighty percent of our southern African employees now participate in VCT compared with less than 10 percent in 2002. Over 6 000 employees are enrolled in HIV disease management programmes," said Pranill Ramchander, Anglo American's spokesman.

Fergus Marupen, the chief of human resources at Absa, said the bank had spent R75 million on its wellness programme over the past three years. "Regular employee engagement sessions are held where industry and medical experts are invited to present to staff on HIV/Aids management," he said.

Medical aid companies have designed specific programmes to assist members, especially those living with the disease.

Fedhealth has a managed health care programme in place for people living with HIV. The scheme currently has 2 313 beneficiaries who are registered on Aid for Aids programmes, 81 percent of whom are receiving ARVs.

Bonitas' Aid for Aids programme educates members about both the prevention and management of the disease.

Discovery Health conducts HIV/Aids education and prevention campaigns including annual VCT. It also offers HIV/Aids management programmes to all its schemes.

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