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At the Absa head office in downtown Jozi, a new HIV counselling and testing centre has opened, and the bank has thrown its weight behind prevention campaigns.
AN HIV counselling and testing and disease management (HCTD) centre was launched at the Absa headquarters in the inner city on 20 July.

 

Leading by example: Minister Aaron Motsoaledi tests for HIV/Aids (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Leading by example: Minister Aaron Motsoaledi tests for HIV/Aids (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Doing the honours were the member of the mayoral committee for health and human development, Nonceba Molwele, joined Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi and Absa Group chief executive, Maria Ramos.
 

“We are launching this important initiative today because we understand the impact that HIV/Aids has on those who are infected and/or affected by the disease,” Ramos said. “We fully support the government’s efforts to combat the spread of HIV/Aids.”

Absa’s campaign supports the Department of Health’s Know Your Status programme, which has a target of testing 15 million South Africans a year. In line with this, the bank is aiming to get at least 80 percent of its 35 000 employees around the country to voluntarily do the testing.

Research by Healthinsite, a medical group, has pinpointed that disease management programmes in companies contribute largely to the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids and related chronic diseases. “It is also well known that HIV/Aids and other chronic diseases have a significant impact on organisations globally.

“It is therefore critically important that we actively manage such diseases if we are to curb their workplace impact,” she said. The effect of disease on the workplace includes reduced productivity, which has a negative impact on a country’s competitiveness and economic growth; this in turn undermines investment and enterprise development.

Molwele applauded the initiative. “The City will play our part in meeting targets, and our involvement in this programme indicates that we are serious about fighting the pandemic,” she said.

Ramos concurred: “We will continue to play our part in the fight against HIV/Aids in various ways and remain committed to supporting national initiatives in this regard.”

HIV infections
Motsoaledi spoke of some of the challenges faced by his department in trying to deal with the high prevalence of HIV/Aids in the country. “In South Africa, the number of those infected with and affected by HIV is 23 times the global average,” he said.

 

City manager Mavela Dlamini and Rafiq Bismila (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)City manager Mavela Dlamini and ED health Refik Bismilla at the launch (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)This was why there was a need for such large-scale programmes to fight the disease. Having a high prevalence of HIV/Aids also led to other social ills such as a low life expectancy and high maternal mortality, Motsoaledi explained. “In 2006, research showed that over 50 percent of deaths were people under the age of 50.”
 

In addition, women seemed to be dying in larger numbers than their male counterparts. “It is going against the laws of nature, where women are supposed to live longer than men,” he said.

Studies have indicated that there are more males with HIV at birth than females, but that this is only true until the age of 15, when people start becoming sexually active. “This is a very serious social problem as it has led to approximately 1,3 million children becoming orphans,” he explained.

A number of prevention strategies had been put in place by his department to try to combat the spread of the disease. Motsoaledi outlined these as detection and management of sexually transmitted infections; provision of condoms; medical male circumcision; safe blood transfusions; prevention of mother to child transmission; and life skills education, among others.

However, Motsoaledi also said that HIV/Aids was not the only disease of concern in the country. There were a number of problems, including a high prevalence of tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, asthma and cancer; these types of illnesses were also on the increase and needed to be dealt with.

“These non-communicable diseases are driven by four factors carried out by humans: smoking, drinking alcohol, eating a poor diet and a lack of exercise,” he said. High abortion rates also presented a challenge.

“South Africa is spending 8,5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on health, but our performance is very poor,” he said. “Health is not just the absence of illness, but also people’s mental, social and physical wellbeing.

“I won’t pull back on issues of smoking, alcohol or the cost of health care. Markets cannot control human rights,” he said.

Despite these challenges and barriers, Motsoaledi said he was heartened by the fact that the Know Your Status campaign had already yielded results. Of the 15 million target, 12,2 million people had been tested by June 2011.

He encouraged more people to get tested at least once a year, and appealed to more men to come forward. “Women can’t fight the battle on their own, so let’s start the yearly testing campaign at Absa today.”

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