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How to take care of the HIV positive employee

Sound advice for the small to medium business owner South Africa is the country in the world with the largest number of people living with HIV – about six million. The productive members of society - aged 18 to 36 - have the highest rate of infection. This means that your business can be affected through a narrowing customer and service provider base, not to mention the loss of employees due to illness or death. In South Africa, about 11 million people work in the formal and informal sectors, most of them in the small and medium business environment. They play a key role in the economy and should this work force continuously fall ill, it has huge economic consequences for the business and the country. Not only do you invest time and money in your personnel through training and creating better working conditions, but business owners also foster a relationship with their employees and the trauma of such an illness or even death, affect people on numerous levels. Should the economic active person in a household fall away, it also affects the consumer base of other businesses. HIV therefore affects all sectors of society and business.

What can you do to protect your employees and manage your business?

Become knowledgeable about the disease and its symptoms, treatment options and how it can affect a person’s ability to function physically and mentally. Raise awareness amongst employees around all issues relating to the disease. Encourage them to live a healthy and responsible life. Get a wellness policy in place. Sounds like a mouthful! But the good news is that you do not need to go about this alone. If possible, partner with other small businesses in the same industry. One business can assist with training while another compile the wellness policy in conjunction with a health care service provider. Business can learn from each other and also share the cost of implementing these programmes. Adhering to legislation will be another important aspect of your HIV programme as the law is very clear on how HIV positive employees should be treated. HIV testing should be voluntary, but the employer has a responsible to provide employees with the opportunity and safe platform to partake in testing should they want to know their status. An employer may not refuse employment to an HIV positive employee, unless the employee is clearly too ill to work (the latter is for all types of diseases and illness and not only HIV). According to Business Partners Ltd, an employer could only refuse to employ someone as a person with HIV if being HIV negative was an inherent requirement of the job. Confidentiality about an employee’s health is vital in any business environment. Keep to the rules as set out in the Labour Relations Act of Good Practice when dealing with dismissals for incapacity.

What does a wellness policy entail?

Education is the first step. HIV positive people need education about the disease, how to handle the knowledge that one is HIV positive, how to engage with fellow employees, manage the disease in terms of lifestyle and relationships within the work place as well as on a personal level. Secondly, everyone should be encouraged to undergo HIV testing and if required, the employer should make provision for antiretroviral therapy through credible health care providers on their premises. Another important action is counselling. Often people can be overwhelmed by the knowledge that they are HIV positive. If managed correctly, it is not a death sentence. Counselling can provide insight and hope and will ensure that people get the proper health care that they need in time. They will also receive guidance on how to respond to discrimination and how to prevent the disease from spreading.

Why health care is so important

Every South African should get tested for HIV every year. This is recommended by the World Health Organization. Often people are tested and no follow-up or treatment plan is put in place. With the proper clinical care, people can lead fulfilling and active lives. HIV can be managed like any other chronic disease by using the right medication and making a few lifestyle changes. The whole process around HIV testing was very expensive because it used to involve three GP visits and blood tests. And in some instances even after all that money has been spent the patient might still be left with nowhere to go for further treatment. Therefore, partner with a health care service provider you can trust to not only to educate or test, but to put a cost-effective and manageable treatment in place. This will not only be to the benefit of you and your employees, but also to their families and ultimately society as a whole. Contact the Centre for Sexual Health at (012) 809 6000 should you wish to know or send a mail to sexualhealth@intercare.co.za. (With recognition and reference to http://southafrica.smetoolkit.org)

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