It’s all about people

It is easy to get distracted by debates about HIV/Aids statistics and possible treatments, but the reality is that people are dying.

It was with this in mind that Standard Bank adopted “It’s About People” as its call to arms in the fight against HIV/Aids.
In 2001 Standard Bank — the corporate winner of this year’s Investing in Life Award — adopted a focused, committed approach to its fight against HIV/Aids.

But the epidemic was not the bank’s only concern. Peter Philip, head of corporate health at Standard Bank, says: “At the time South Africa was going through some of the earlier waves of hijackings, bank robberies and cash-in-transit heists. This led to a significant level of trauma at the bank and we needed to help our staff cope. We were given a brief to implement an employee well­being programme to deal with issues around staff trauma and HIV.”

In 2002 the bank rolled out independent counselling and advisory services in several provinces.

“The advisory services [programme] is a valuable supplier of professional assistance services to our staff. The programme provides staff and their families with telephonic counselling and, when required, up to eight face-to-face sessions per issue per person in a year,” says Philip.

At the end of 2002 the bank launched its HIV/Aids communications campaign. “Our champions [or voluntary peer educators] do the work, carry the message, hold workshops and encourage people to engage in voluntary counselling and testing,” says Philip.

In 2003 about 10 000 staff members took part in the banking sector prevalence survey and voluntarily tested for HIV.

The banking sector came out with a 3,4% prevalence rate — low compared with other sectors — but the large sample size meant information was gleaned from different demographic groups. “The survey showed that it did not matter whether someone was an executive, manager, service staff member or involved in clerical work, HIV existed in your group,” Philip says.

In 2004/05 the bank launched its award-winning HIV/Aids education and training campaign, Bridges of Hope.

“Bridges is the most fantastic training tool because it is not about some guy in a lab coat waving his finger under people’s noses and saying they must ‘put a condom on before they put it in’,” says Philip. “It is about making people understand their values … and that to achieve their dreams and aspirations there are certain things they must do or not do.”

Philip says Standard Bank’s approach to wellness has shifted from a focus on HIV/Aids and trauma to a broad-based, holistic wellness programme that is founded on good business sense.

“We will have a programme that is for everyone and offers value to all our employees. It is the chronic diseases and the lifestyle diseases that cause the greatest number of deaths and, according to the World Health Organisation, it is only going to get worse,” says Philip.

“The process is designed to be fun and to assist in team building,” he says. “At the same time, we are showing good business sense as sick people are not as productive as healthy employees.”

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Andrew Gillingham
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