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Of South Africa's total population of over 48 million people, 5.7 million are infected with HIV. The Bosch HIV workplace program reaches almost 1,000 associates at the company's locations in Brits and Midrand. While this may be just a small step forward in the overall fight against HIV, it gives courage to people at Bosch and beyond, and promotes a different perspective on life.
There are 1.4 million orphans in South Africa, many of whom have lost their parents to HIV. For many years, Bosch has therefore been committed to supporting hospitals and children in orphanages. By providing donations and small gifts, the regional subsidiary in South Africa brings a little more joy and hope into the lives of these children.
Due to the prevalence of HIV, people are generally very reluctant to agree to a test. With that in mind, it's particularly pleasing that 93 percent of our associates undertook an HIV test last year. Training initiatives have helped to ensure that associates are now much more aware of the risks posed by HIV/AIDS. At the same time, they also have access to far better information about prevention and treatment. If associates do test positive for HIV, they need not fear that they will be stigmatized – instead, they know their employer will provide support and medical care.
Overall, the Bosch HIV workplace program is proving a success. The number of infections and deaths has fallen, and this in turn is reflected in a drop in the absence rate. It's also evident that associates are gradually changing their perceptions. HIV/AIDS is now viewed as a condition that can be lived with rather than a life sentence. Today, the HIV program is integrated into a far-reaching health care program – and it's starting to have an effect. Bosch is well aware that this work must continue, and that it is also essential to expand the program to associates' families and the wider community.
Few issues generate as much fear and anxiety as HIV/AIDS. That means trust in employers plays a crucial role in the HIV workplace program. Associates must be protected from discrimination and have the security of knowing that information about HIV/AIDS is treated with absolute confidentiality. This applies in particular to test results. That's why, in 2003, Bosch cooperated with all the relevant parties to establish privacy rights, confidentiality and protection against discrimination as the core principles for its HIV workplace program. Supported by the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), Bosch shared its experience with other companies early on and also became a member of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.
Preventive measures are a key focus of the HIV workplace program. Specialist advisors organize regular information events and training sessions for multipliers. All associates have access to free voluntary testing and counseling. Here too, the Bosch regional subsidiary in South Africa receives support from external experts. The sooner infected employees know about their condition, the lower the risk that they will infect others. Alongside preventive measures, providing support and medicine to associates with the virus is also an integral part of the program.
Special: Improve preventive measures - Can HIV workplace programs reduce the spread of AIDS in South Africa?
Sometimes, there's no such thing as too much negative growth. In the past eight years, the number of new cases of HIV has dropped by 17 percent worldwide. In 2008, there were even slightly fewer new infections recorded in South Africa, the region with the largest number of people living with HIV. Nonetheless, at 5.7 million, the total number of South Africans with AIDS is still unimaginably high – and that has knock-on effects for the population and the country. In 2007, around 350,000 people in South Africa died of HIV and there were 1.4 million orphaned children.
The pandemic is also having a major impact on the economy of South Africa. The loss of workers is robbing companies of valuable expertise, reducing productivity and increasing health and training costs. Bosch established a presence in South Africa as early as 1906 and, today, employs almost 1,000 associates. Like many companies, Bosch introduced an HIV/AIDS program some years ago and is also committed to addressing the consequences of the condition. The South African government aims to cut the rate of infection by 50 percent by 2011. Can companies contribute to this by providing education, preventive measures and medicines?