One key to increasing HIV testing is to incorporate such testing as a part of a broader lifestyle screening covering several potential health threats.
Judith Bester, general manager of Aganang, says HIV is not a moral issue, but a health issue. “We do not go into the workplace from a specific HIV angle but rather from a more holistic approach of overall wellness,” says Bester.
“An organisation’s most valuable resource is its human resource. In the recent past companies could gain competitive advantage through their use of technology but the pendulum has now swung the other way and human capital is once again the most valuable.
“Companies have to create a culture of care and support and get the message out to their employees that they are valuable and that their employers care.”
Ampie Swanepoel, chief operating officer at HealthChoices, the wellness provider for the Oxygen medical scheme, says it is a good idea, where possible, to get away from negative perceptions about HIV/Aids and build on the foundation of a general wellness focus. “In terms of the awareness and risk assessment component we try to combine HIV with general lifestyle risk assessment.
“By taking this approach there is usually a more positive response from individuals,” Swanepoel says.
Using this approach instead of just testing for HIV, the service provider adds a lot more value for both employees and employers by screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, and height versus weight ratio (body mass index). This also means that the VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) station is just one of a series of stations testing for different lifestyle health risks.
“Having a series of tests means that when people agree to testing they do not feel that other people will think that they are worried they might have HIV,” says Swanepoel.
“In a recent case in Cape Town 72% of all a company’s employees participated in the general wellness and HIV screening. This is a very high response.”
James Gregory, general manager of Prime Cure Wellness, says employees hear a lot about HIV/Aids in the press, on TV and from their colleagues but they do not get a full, coherent message.
When employees are told they could be tested in the workplace a degree of anxiety is created. People immediately wonder why the company is doing the testing and even think they may be fired if they test positive for HIV.
Testing is thus desirable but not as a first step. Instead companies have to create an awareness of the disease, its implications and the organisations’ policies towards HIV-positive employees.
Companies must also be aware that the VCT process can be a scary experience for employees as it focuses on a single disease.
“This could build some discrimination into the process,” says Gregory. “Therefore we try to convince companies to provide their employees with a health-risk assessment. In such a process HIV becomes but one condition that is being screened for.”
Gregory says a typical health-risk assessment includes tests for cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and the person’s body mass index as well as HIV testing.
In addition to providing a more favourable environment for HIV testing, this approach also alerts non-HIV-positive personnel who might be under threat from other lifestyle-related conditions that can be managed.
“With the current emergency situation that we have, we have created HIV interventions and structures, but in the future these will evolve into long-term corporate wellness programmes that will lead to a healthier and more productive workforce,” Gregory says.