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Managing HIV/Aids in the hospitality industry

 Tsebo Solutions Group’s wellness manager, Alan Brand, offers detailed advice on HIV/Aids management

Today (1 December) is World Aids Day. We asked wellness manager for  Tsebo Solutions Group, Alan Brand, some key questions about managing the illness in the workplace.

Hotel & Restaurant: How has HIV/Aids awareness grown in the hospitality workplace in the last ten years?

Alan Brand: “Since the roll-out of antiretroviral treatment and with an improved understanding of how to care for the individual infected with HIV and Aids, awareness campaigns have changed into a more positive approach. Although HIV/Aids still remains incurable, with treatment now freely available it is closer to being considered a manageable health condition.

“It is easier to encourage people to know their status due to the fact that a positive diagnosis no longer needs to be associated with a death sentence. In the same way that many of the attendees of the 2010 World Aids Conference headed home feeling optimistic about the future of the HIV/Aids pandemic, I am able to share these sentiments. ‘Test-and-treat’ as a public health method for curtailing the pandemic has meant that we can now proactively bring HIV/Aids campaigns into the general wellness arena.”

H&R: What are the current estimates of the percentage of staff deaths due to HIV/Aids being experienced in the hospitality industry per year, and is it going up or down?

AB: “To answer this question I must first state that unless hospitality companies and organisations have been actively monitoring the death rates experienced within their labour force for a number of years, any accurate answer would simply be a guess. What I can say is that within the Tsebo Solutions Group these trends have been monitored for the past six years and it was noted that the death and incapacity/disability trend peaked during the 2007/2008 financial year. It is very encouraging to notice that this has now dropped to levels experienced prior to 2005/2006 and can only be attributed to employees accessing treatment.

“This is also confirmed by the national statistics reported by the Department of Heath, that, between 2006 and 2010, South Africa is experiencing the plateau of the HIV curve with positive indications that this trend will continue and a reduction in new infections will be a reality of the future. South Africa has the largest number of people accessing ARV’s in the world. It is further estimated that 2.3-million life-years have been added due to introduction of antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa during 1996 to 2008.”

H&R: As group wellness manager, how are employers focusing – i.e. practical examples or programmes – on the overall health and wellbeing of their staff?

AB: “Sadly the economic instability has not necessarily assisted employers in maintaining and enhancing HIV/Aids and other wellness intervention programmes. In the same way that the global fund and international donors have withdrawn funding for HIV/Aids, TB and malaria programmes in Africa, companies have had to cut back on budgets previously made available for these initiatives.

“Notwithstanding these challenges, it has been encouraging to see that the hospitality sector has introduced the HIV/Aids discretionary grant programme and have set real and measurable criteria that have encouraged the sector to continue to implement and expand on existing initiatives. The Tsebo Solutions Group has successfully continued to implement and enhance existing programmes and has provided HIV/Aids Awareness, HIV/Aids Peer Educator and HIV/Aids training for managers and supervisors for over 600 employees, hence has qualified for the discretionary grant component training.

H&R: How are staff responding to the message of taking better care of health and wellness?

AB: “To answer this question I wish to relate a true story which just happened a few weeks ago. I was asked to counsel an employee that had been taking excessive sick leave and clearly, when I met her, I could see that she was not well. During the counselling session I was able to ask directly if she had considered having an HIV test and how she felt about knowing her status. I was able to highlight that by knowing she would be able to access treatment and that this would mean she had the best opportunity to live a healthy life and see her children grew up.

“I could also relate that I knew my status and I was able to take my ARV’s out of my pocket and show her what they looked like and talk to her about living with HIV. If it was not for treatment availability I would not have been able to speak to her in this manner. Being a young mother of two small children I could encourage her to make a choice for herself and her children. The alternative would be to simply not know what was going on medically and to continue to fade away and die.

“She promised to go and get tested that same week. I received a call before the end of the week telling me that she had tested positive and that she was so grateful for my talk as she was not afraid anymore as now that she knew she could get treatment and begin to regain her health. ‘I want to look well like you do,’ she said. She has started taking ARV’s and is in a support group at her clinic and calls me regularly to tell me how she is improving. This story relates how things have changed – knowing one’s status is no longer a death sentence… not knowing your status is.”

H&R: Has there been a decrease in absenteeism as a result of staff taking better care overall of their health?

AB: “Due to better access to treatment for HIV through the introduction of ARV’s there does seem to be a reduction in absenteeism. HIV impacts on all other conditions and clearly prior to the introduction of antiretroviral therapy, absenteeism reached chronic proportions. South Africa sadly has lagged behind the rest of the world for a long time with a poor understanding of the impact of denying treatment to those that needed it most. Although this was the case, as already mentioned South Africa now has the highest number of people accessing ARV’s in the world and the benefits of this will only fully be experienced in the years to come.”

H&R: When it comes to food handling, what are the key protection measures taken by staff with any kind of illness, and particularly HIV/Aids?

AB: “Food poisoning can occur when you eat foods or drink water which contains large amounts of harmful bacteria. Preventing food poisoning is of special concern to persons with HIV infection or Aids, because it causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting and leads to weight loss. It is important to pay careful attention to food safety when buying, preparing, serving and storing foods. Here are some tips:

  • Use safe, clean water for drinking and preparing food.
  • Boil water for at least five minutes to make it safe.
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and during food preparation or eating.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables with clean water.
  • Cook food thoroughly.
  • Avoid storing cooked food for more than 24 hours.
  • Thoroughly reheat food that has been kept for more than 2 hours after being prepared (cooked).
  • Store water and food in clean containers.

“You should be eating a healthy diet. A balanced diet includes many different kinds of food. The key is to eat a variety of foods. To help you deal with HIV infection, the food you eat should provide you with lots of nourishment and energy. Many people lose weight with HIV, so eat as much food as you like to try to control your weight. It is preferable to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to frozen or canned varieties. Try not to overcook vegetables because this will kill important minerals your body needs. Alcohol, caffeine and sugar can suppress the immune system so keep intake of these to a minimum.

“Wash all foodstuffs to ensure you do not eat any pesticides. If you wish to take extra supplements, research shows that using one good multivitamin is the only supplement that is scientifically proven that will enhance your health. It is also important to drink plenty of water so as to avoid dehydration, especially if you have diarrhoea. If you need to know more about healthy eating habits, contact your nearest health clinic who should be able to give you’re the correct information.”

H&R: In the units that your company caters for, what programmes are in place for feeding workers/clients with HIV/Aids?

AB: “The Fedics HIV/Aids enhanced focus on nutrition in the workplace started in 2005 and is still well received by all our clients and customers. What has, however, happened is that the programme has been enhanced to address the general wellness of all employees utilising the catering facilities operated by the Tsebo Solutions Group catering companies.

“Our Lifestyles programme encourages all employees to take responsibility for the food choice they make and enables the individual to select food items that will not only improve their specific criteria but their life styles and health conditions. Healthy eating awareness programmes remain in places which encourage healthy choices based on a clear understanding of the nutritional content of the item selected.

“Clients are more concerned with their general wellness: this is clear through the growing use of gyms and exercise regiments. Clients now have a tool which can be used in conjunction with this trend to assist the individual to make healthy life and food choices.”

H&R: What is your message to the hospitality industry – staff, managers and directors – on how to focus their attention this World Aids Day to achieve results in reducing infection and increasing awareness?

AB: “At a recent conference I was asked by a delegate why after so many years and after so much manpower, money and investment, medically, emotionally and scientifically we are still not stemming the tide of HIV and Aids. It must be mentioned that the person who asked the question is very active in the fight against HIV and has dedicated her time and efforts to educate and assist those infected by the disease. It was with a sense of exhaustion and from being emotionally overwhelmed that she asked the question.

“I do not believe that I was ready to answer the question at the time, but already a seed was busy germinating in my mind and heart, one which I have not been able to express fully until now. It seems that this concept has finally come to fully blossom and IT IS AYOBA!

“Consider the sense of goodwill, joy and wellbeing experienced and expressed during the 2010 World Cup by both South Africans and the international guests. Even the prophets of doom and gloom had to bite their tongues and concede that their predictions had failed and we had achieved something to be truly proud of. Not only did serious crime incidents drop in South Africa during the world cup but this was the experience around the world.

“Now consider the reality of HIV/Aids in sub-Saharan Africa and how easy it is to fall into the trap of becoming a profit of doom when we focus on the statistics and history of the epidemic. How much energy have we spent on promoting the negative, highlighting our failure to stem the tide and putting the spotlight on the lack of political will, slow implementation and access to treatment and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and Aids?

“I can go on and on and on and IT IS NOT AYOBA. No wonder that all this negative messaging contributes towards a sense of hopelessness and inadequacy in the collective and individual conscience of all South Africans and for that matter the entire sub-Saharan African region.

“The time has come to stop the negative energy and messages around HIV and Aids as surely by now we must be aware that it has not been a successful tool in preventing the spread of the epidemic. I believe that all it has done is make people, institutions and governments feel so overwhelmed that the only possible response is one of denial, apathy and inactivity.

“By emphasising the successes and the reality that we have not yet been defeated, we can and will be victorious in the war against the HI virus. We no longer need to be pessimistic and in tribute and honour to the many that have died we owe it to our children and the future to rise above the ‘can’t do’ attitude and boldly raise our hearts and minds as we spend energy and our collective intellectual capacity to a united, focused political will as we continuing the positive achievements. 2010 has the potential to herald a new era of innovation in fighting the virus.”


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