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Sappi Employee HIV/Aids Program Now in 17th Year

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Sappi, South Africa, reports that its support for HIV/Aids infected employees, as well as education on how to deal with and prevent HIV/Aids, has now been a standard company practice for 17 years. Sappi has been providing support to its HIV/Aids-infected employees since 1991 when it first established an HIV/Aids policy, which it subsequently updated in 2003. The overall HIV prevalence of the company's workforce is currently at 14.4%, approximately half of the estimated national HIV prevalence rate of 28%.

Through its HIV/Aids policy, Sappi provides effective resources and leadership for the implementation of programs across all of its operations in Southern Africa. These programs provide extensive prevention, treatment, and support and aim to minimise stigma—an obstacle to participation in voluntary counselling and testing. Programs 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 programs remain relevant to the needs of each unit.

Knowledge of HIV status is well recognised as a key intervention for mobilizing individuals to take personal responsibility for containing the spread of HIV infection, Sappi notes. 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 an HIV/Aids managed care program.

HIV-infected permanent employees have been offered anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment from the beginning of 2003, according to Sappi. As effective ARV treatment, it adds, 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, and so the company's 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 to ensure sustainability of the program.

André Oberholzer, group head of corporate affairs at Sappi, explains that the group looks further than its own immediate operations in combating the pandemic. "Recognising that our HIV/Aids workplace programs 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 organizations, and other national and provincial bodies, to implement comprehensive HIV/Aids programs, 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 to contain the spread of the epidemic and reduce the risk to its employees. Of the company's Corporate Social Responsibility budget in South Africa, R3.2 million is allocated to HIV outreach programs.


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