German carmakers fight AIDS in South Africa
TWIG - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s visit to South Africa has set the spotlight on German investment in that country — and the big money German companies are spending to fight an HIV/AIDS pandemic that is ravaging the nation both socially and economically.
With programs that concentrate on education, prevention and treatment in equal measure, the companies hope to stem the tide of the AIDS crisis in South African communities — and to keep their employees healthy.
The extent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa is, after all, too large to ignore. The country has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any nation. Some 5.3 million South Africans are HIV positive, representing 13% of the world’s total.
Investors like carmakers DaimlerChrysler, BMW and Volkswagen have taken note — and are offering voluntary testing of employees as well as support and treatment to those who are infected.
"The HIV/AIDS pandemic is everyone’s problem as there are an estimated 5,000 people dying each week in South Africa from this scourge," said Volkswagen Non-Executive Director Saki Macozoma. "Business has the resources and it makes sense to fight the HIV/AIDS scourge, but at the same time we need the communities to get involved to fight the stigma associated with this problem."
Volkswagen spends about 3 million rand ($420,000) annually on its HIV prevention and treatment campaign, which provides anti-viral drugs to the part of its workforce that is infected and works to educate healthy employees about safe sex practices.
DaimlerChrysler South Africa (DCSA), whose motto is "HIV/AIDS Is Everybody’s Business," has a similar program to supply medication to the estimated 9% of its workforce afflicted with the disease.
With its "AID for AIDS" program, BMW also offers HIV positive employees complete treatment with all necessary medications, free of charge.
In addition, the company distributes condoms and educational material, while 60 specially-trained ‘peer educators’ among the workforce help to ensure that their colleagues are provided with information and education on HIV/AIDS.
The carmakers say that it not only makes sense to fight AIDS from a humanitatian perspective, but also to reduce costs related to lost production because of absenteeism, training of new workers and claims on their insurance funds.
Since 1998, German auto makers have invested close to 7bn
rand ($980 million) in South African plants — mostly to take advantage of a
government incentive program to boost vehicle exports.
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