A new survey says most South African business owners believe HIV/AIDS will negatively affect their businesses over the next five years. The survey also shows that most owners are now willing to do something about it.
It’s estimated that more than five million people in South Africa are living with HIV/AIDS. It’s one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Because of the stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease, it’s been difficult to get an exact figure as to how many people have died of HIV/AIDS over the years. Despite that, the toll the disease has taken on South Africa’s work force is clearly seen. Many of those who’ve died were primary breadwinners.
The international accounting firm, Grant Thornton, conducted the survey on how HIV/AIDS is affecting South African business. Lee-Anne Bac is director of the firm’s Strategic Solutions Division.
“We did a sample of 300 businesses, owner-managed businesses. In South Africa that’s defined as employees of between 50 and 250 people. And of that, 80 percent are saying that HIV and AIDS is going to have an impact on their business performance in the next five years,” she says.
The survey shows most concern in the construction, manufacturing, retail and service sectors of the economy.
Bac says, “There’s a humanitarian impact because they’re losing skilled people. And obviously the cost of retraining people is bearing an impact on their business. The cost of recruiting, the cost of managing absenteeism and just people out of the office is having an impact on their business.”
The survey by Grant Thornton does show widespread awareness of HIV/AIDS across the country among business owners. But Bac says some South African provinces are feeling the effects of the pandemic more than others, and the attitudes of business owners appear linked to the HIV prevalence rate.
“So, we know that the Western Cape, for example, has a lower prevalence level. And only 68 percent of businesses in Cape Town, which is in the Western Cape, are saying that HIV/AIDS is going to have an impact on their business operations in the five years to come. Whereas KwaZulu-Natal, which has one of the highest prevalence rates, as well as Eastern Cape, and even Gauteng, more of those businesses are saying there’s going to be an impact. And in particular in the Eastern Cape, 97 percent of the respondents actually said it’s going to have an impact on their businesses,” she says.
Bac says besides having a greater awareness about HIV/AIDS, most business owners are now willing to intervene.
“(In) all areas of intervention, there has been an increase from businesses in actually trying to do something about it. Thirty- five percent of these businesses are actually saying that they are prepared to pay for treatment of their HIV positive employees. In other words, to keep them fit, healthy and in the workplace, paying for their treatment is more cost effective than it is to actually lose these people from their workforce,” she says.
The thirty-five percent of business owners willing to pay for AIDS treatment for employees reflects a 13 percent increase over last year’s survey. Lee-Anne Bac says, “It’s encouraging to see that perceptions are changing, but arguably not fast enough.”