The business of preventing HIV

Corporate intervention in the spread of HIV saves lives, nowhere more so than in sub-Saharan Africa. Peter Archer reports on companies making a positive global impact


Even when a major company takes action to protect its workforce from HIV, productivity can still be hit if suppliers’ staff are vulnerable to the disease. Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa realised this and have helped to implement a successful scheme within the region’s automotive industry.

Research conducted in 2009 showed vehicle component suppliers in South Africa had failed to address the significant business threat posed by HIV. The Ford Struandale Engine Plant at Port Elizabeth, however, had already instituted a forward-looking scheme within its wide-ranging employee wellness programme.

In conjunction with the Automotive Development Centre and German-financed Aids Prevention and Health Promotion Workplace Programmes in South Africa, Ford launched a wellness scheme for its suppliers in the Eastern Cape. The goal is to combat the ill-effects of Aids fatigue by increasing HIV awareness, counselling and testing.

So far, more than 100 peer educators and co-ordinators have been trained, and more than 2,000 employees now know their HIV status, representing more than 90 per cent participation.

In addition to protecting supplychain workers against HIV, the ongoing support network strengthens community ties, increases monitoring opportunities and promotes industry best practice.

The Struandale Engine Plant, which machines components and assembles engines primarily for export, continues to maintain growth within the Ford Motor Company’s global operations.

TIMELY SOLUTION SAVES YOUNG LIVES

In Kenya, inefficient HIV testing resulted in a high death rate among children born to infected mothers.

Step forward computing and IT giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) with a life-saving solution.

Kenya has a mother-to-child HIV transmission rate as high as 45 per cent. And half of all HIV-positive infants are unlikely to live beyond the age of two without antiretroviral treatment at birth.

But for a newborn to start treatment requires the mother’s diagnosis before her baby is born. With Kenya’s slow, inefficient HIV testing system, rural clinics could wait up to four months for test results to come back – a delay that could mean the difference between life and death for infants.

The goal is to combat the ill-effects of Aids fatigue by increasing HIV awareness, counselling and testing

In partnership with the Kenyan government and Clinton Health Access Initiative, HP helped to automate and digitise the testing process, thereby speeding up the return of results so HIV-positive babies can begin antiretroviral treatment in a matter of days instead of months.

Patient samples are now assigned a barcode, tested at one of four labs and then recorded in a database. Results go via text message to SMS-enabled printers in the local clinics.

Thanks to this new system, the number of HIV-positive children receiving treatment will approximately double from 45,000 in 2009, before introduction, to an expected 70,000 when fully operational in 2011.

Further, because the system developed for Kenya was designed with reliability and scalability in mind, it can be leveraged for similar impact by other nations and in other instances where timely diagnosis is critical for effective treatment.

CHANNELING THE HIV MESSAGE

MTV Networks International, a division of Viacom, is using its position as a global leader in the world of entertainment to capture the hearts and minds of a young audience.

Project Ignite is a regionally directed campaign focusing on the HIV/Aids epidemics in Kenya and Zambia, and also Trinidad and Tobago, and Ukraine.

Through locally produced TV programming, it aims to galvanise a movement of young people to become actively engaged in HIV issues. Along with its prevention themes, the campaign features messages designed to reduce HIV-associated stigma.

The TV shows also link with locally focused online blogs, websites, social media, live events and training sessions. Independent evaluation by Johns Hopkins University in the United States has provided evidence of the campaign’s effectiveness. Youth in Kenya’s capital Nairobi had an especially high level of contact with the campaign. Almost two thirds of the 15 to 24 year olds targeted were familiar with the messages.

By making the broadcasts as relevant and resonant as possible to each audience, MTV is able to create greater interest, thereby communicating the campaign’s key themes to a larger section of the target population. In response to the success of programming in Kenya, MTV is producing which will be filmed there.