- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

From combined dispatches

JOHANNESBURG

South Africa’s key sectors were badly hit by AIDS in the past year to September, leading to a dip in profits and productivity, according to a study issued yesterday.

“The mining, manufacturing and transport sectors are biggest hit,” said Brad Mears, chief executive of the South African Business Coalition on HIV and AIDS, which has conducted research on the effects of AIDS on business for the past three years.

“Forty percent of manufacturing and transport companies and 60 percent of the mines report that HIV/AIDS has led to a loss of experience and vital skills in their organizations.”



South Africa has one of the highest HIV rates in the world, with about one in seven people — 6.5 million — infected with the virus, according to figures announced by the Health Ministry in July.

Mr. Mears said more than 1,030 companies in eight economic sectors were surveyed this year, the largest such study in South Africa to date.

“When asked how HIV/AIDS is affecting company profits, 55 percent of the mines, 46 percent of the transport companies and 38 percent of the manufacturers surveyed reported that profitability has already been adversely affected by HIV/AIDS,” it said.

The study found that AIDS had its biggest impact on labor productivity and worker absenteeism. Most small and medium-sized businesses polled did not have awareness or treatment programs in place, but large companies did.

Forty percent of large companies provided anti-retroviral drugs to their employees, while 17 percent of medium-sized and 3 percent of small businesses had treatment programs.

But the study showed that owing to discrimination against HIV-positive people, not many workers take advantage of the AIDS programs.

Meanwhile in Ivory Coast, one of the West African countries hardest hit by AIDS, officials in Abidjan, the capital, announced yesterday the signing of an agreement with the Clinton Foundation to provide anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for 570,000 people.

Under the agreement, HIV-positive people in Ivory Coast will get ARV drugs at minimum cost, the government announced. The country also joins a consortium the Clinton Foundation has set up to secure the best prices for high-quality medical diagnosis and treatment based on an accord it reached last year with major pharmaceutical companies to cut the price of ARVs by up to 80 percent.

The foundation, created by former President Bill Clinton, has taken an AIDS initiative that will enable the Ivorian Health Ministry to cut ARV prices to one-third of what the drugs previously cost.

The government estimates 80,000 Ivorians have AIDS and 7 percent of the population is HIV-positive.

In July, health authorities ran out of ARV stocks for three months. In September, the United States gave Ivory Coast $42 million to deal with the problem in an emergency plan undertaken by President Bush.

In an separate AIDS development yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI said at the Vatican that he felt close to victims of AIDS and encouraged efforts to find a cure for the killer disease, but sidestepped the issue of the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on condoms.

“I feel close to those sick with AIDS and their families, and I invoke for them the help and comfort of the Lord,” he said in his comment for today’s observance of World AIDS Day.

According to U.N. figures, nearly 5 million people worldwide became infected by HIV in 2005. Some 40.3 million people are living with the disease.

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