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SUB CATEGORIES General  |  HIV |  Medical Schemes | 

Time to manage and support HIV-positive employees

08 July 2007

We're living in a country where we can no longer say HIV/Aids does not affect us, or that we don't know someone who is HIV-positive. So the only question now is, "what can I do?". A good place to start is the place where many of us spend a large majority of our time at work.

"People under-estimate the effect that they can have on an HIV positive colleague or employee. Understanding the disease can make the work environment a safer place, says Dr Tinyiko Khosa, director of Zuzimpilo Medical Centre, a private clinic that provides comprehensive HIV/Aids care at a substantially subsidised rate.

Firstly, it's the employees choice as to whether or not they want to disclose their status to their employers or colleagues. Many people fear that if they reveal that they are HIV positive, their job may be in jeopardy.

One way of doing this, is by implementing and creating awareness around a company AIDS policy. This will reassure employees and give guidance to the various situations that could arise if an employee is HIV infected. It is a simple document to create and most companies should have one in place.

Under no circumstances should an employer reveal the health circumstances of an employee. This applies to any medical condition.

An employer cannot dictate that employees get an HIV test or reveal their status. It is important to create an environment of trust whereby your employees know that, despite their HIV status, their jobs are safe.

"Most people we treat at the clinic are fearful of losing their jobs," Dr Khosa explains. "Provide information to staff that deals with the importance of knowing your HIV status and information about treatment. You then help employees to make an informed decision."

"Disclosure of anyone's HIV status is an extremely personal issue and no one can make a decision about revealing someone elses status for them," says Dr Tinyiko Khosa.

HIV positive employees should not necessarily be given special status, but when someone is diagnosed with any chronic condition they need some time to get their condition under control. Every employee is entitled to 36 sick leave days in a 3-year cycle. Once the condition is being correctly managed, no additional leave is necessary.

However, some people may have been started on ARVs very late or their treatment may take longer to work. Furthermore, people living with HIV may have other problems in addition to HIV. A supportive environment should be in place, guided by the company HIV policy that gives some leeway.

If an HIV positive worker has been badly treated by other employees on account of their health status, it means that your workplace is in desperate need of education and that a company policy must be put in place. No one should be discriminated against on account of HIV status.

In this instance, a corporate HIV policy will clearly state what processes will be followed should anyone be discriminated against.

Treatment

Most medical schemes offer disease management programmes that provide education and treatment for various chronic conditions. Members will gain access to the HIV programme and its benefits. Their status will remain confidential and the scheme will pay for most of the treatment required.

Treatment for an HIV positive employee will depend on what finances are available. Government clinics provide a free service, but employees will most likely need a day off a month to visit the clinics. Private doctors charge about R1200 a month for ARV treatment.

The subsidised Zuzimpilo Medical Centre charges only R250 a month for full ARV treatment. HIV testing at the clinic is only R20 and CD4 testing is R50. No waiting is necessary if appointments are made.

Zuzimpilo will visit your place of work and do voluntary counselling and testing for a reduced fee or provide vouchers so that your employees can access these services. For more information about Zuzimpilo Medical Centre call 0860 467 456 / www.zuzimpilo.co.za. The clinic is supported by USAID with funding from PEPFAR.

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