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Alan Brand, Group Wellness Manager (HIV/AIDS) of Tsebo Outsourcing Group, has been instrumental in the development and implementation of the Group’s AIDS Management Programme. Through the programme, Brand and his team of Peer educators strive to increase and maintain awareness of HIV/AIDS among Tsebo staff. Living openly with his HIV status, Brand has helped to change the mindsets of many, and has pioneered the business to business approach in addressing the nutritional needs of people living with HIV and AIDS. Here, he discusses the issue that affect our industry . . .

I am undoubtedly a very optimistic guy. Yet despite my optimism about essentially everything in existence, I’m beginning to think the term “chronic, manageable condition,” when applied to HIV/AIDS, may be overly optimistic – or at least misleading – particularly for many of us who are HIV positive and struggling to coexist with a virus that wants nothing more than to plant us six feet under!

If you’re involved in the management of HIV/AIDS in the workplace you will be aware that, although treatment has provided the tools to greatly improve the health and prognosis of many, it would be far from the truth to say that all is under control.

While I admit that many of us who are HIV positive no longer feel we have one foot in the grave, I wonder: Do we really have a “chronic, manageable condition?” Personally, I tend to think of halitosis, haemorrhoids or even “the heartbreak of psoriasis” as examples of chronic manageable conditions. But HIV/AIDS? I’m not so sure.

In South Africa we have the largest number of people accessing treatment for HIV than any country in the world – we also have the highest number of people infected with HIV in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV. In 2008, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 67% of HIV infections worldwide, 68% of new HIV infections among adults and 91% of new HIV infections among children. The region also accounted for 72% of the world’s AIDS-related deaths in 2008.

Much has been written about the virtues of life-sustaining drugs – called Antiretrovirals or ARVs – with the authors proclaiming that HIV/AIDS is now a “chronic (ongoing), manageable condition”, like hypertension or diabetes. ARV advertising campaigns fuel this notion with glossy photos suggesting that taking pills would transform a frail HIV positive individual. This might be true – but it is not a holistic picture, because without careful monitoring, care and support, ARV therapy can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and many other additional complications.

Workplace programmes that simply provide ARV treatment without ensuring a holistic employee wellness management approach will result in a greater chance that patient will become non-compliant. Ensuring that base line cholesterol, blood glucose levels are conducted, as well as regular monitoring and evaluation of kidney and liver function, are all key to holistically managing the wellness of the HIV patient.

In 2002/3, the Department of Health (DoH) conducted a national research project that investigated the impact of HIV/AIDS on the hospitality sector. This research project consisted of two parts:

  • A Knowledge, Attitudes & Practices (KAP) Survey, conducted among 4 500 employees; and
  • An assessment of the impact of HIV/AIDS on 450 businesses

Results clearly pointed to the hospitality sector’s critical need for practical tools and guidance on developing and actioning an HIV/AIDS strategy. For management to better understand the dire need for wellness programmes in the HIV arena, they need to know the effects of HIV/AIDS on any business, which include:

Increased costs:

  • Insurance
  • Training
  • Recruitment
  • Administration
  • Medical care

Reduced productivity:

  • Illness
  • Family care/concerns
  • Funeral leave
  • Labour turnover
  • Absenteeism
  • Low morale

Concerns for the hospitality industry in particular include the fact that it is labour intensive; training costs are high; it has largely a mobile workforce; many employees are young and single; and there are a high number of unskilled workers. Customers’ perceptions too, need to be managed – including ignorance about the transmission of HIV/AIDS and perceived risks.

The Tsebo Outsourcing Group Employee Wellness and Assistance Programmes recognise that personal and family problems can negatively influence work performance as well as affect employees, colleagues and supervisors. The most effective response to these problems is early intervention, especially when it comes to complying with medicine regimens. In designing the programme, we included the following:

  • HIV/AIDS Awareness
  • Peer Educator Programme – Counselling and Care Giving
  • TB Awareness
  • Managing Employee Wellness – Absenteeism
  • Incapacity Management
  • Chronic Disease Management
  • Food Borne Diseases – Food handlers
  • Nutritional Initiative
  • Treatment literacy – Adherence
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Universal Precautions – First Aid

The Employee Wellness and Assistance Programme is committed to maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of employees and adherence to legislation, labour law and policy is strictly observed.

Way back in April 2004, Fedics – one of three primary operating divisions in the Tsebo Outsourcing Group – became the first South African company specifically to create and offer nutritionally enhanced menus designed to boost the immune systems of people living with HIV/AIDS. All client recipes and menus have been engineered to proactively address nutritional intake, with particular attention to immunity-boosting foods. It was then – and still is – a ground-breaking approach to assisting with treatment. Menus have a red ribbon next to items that are considered nutritionally supportive of HIV treatment, allowing people to order them without having to make their status known to those around them.

While many organisations have some form of in-house HIV management program, few consider the benefit of directly addressing the nutritional intake of employees infected with HIV. It’s about focusing on living with HIV, not dying of AIDS and while good nutrition won’t cure HIV/AIDS, it most certainly can help maintain and improve health.

Fedics is renowned for its initiatives that support its staff and clients in both health and productivity, enabling clients to pass on good health to their consumers. We are proud of the Group’s Wellness programme and will continue to innovate and meet the needs of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

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