World AIDS Day 2013

Since 2005, AIDS related deaths have decreased by 30% and 9.7million people in low and middle income countries are now accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) representing a 20% increase since 2011 (UNAIDS). However, with the number of new infections for 2012 at 2.3 million and 50% of all people living with HIV unaware of their status, much remains to be done in terms of scaling up access to testing and treatment as well as reaching vulnerable populations.

Atlas Copco WAD 160 (800x571)World AIDS Day, commemorated on 1st December, is an opportunity to celebrate progress being made in addressing HIV and AIDS whilst raising awareness and encouraging progress in prevention, treatment and care.  SWHAP partners will be joining UNAIDS and other actors in observing this day through commemorative marches and community outreach to vulnerable populations such as prisoners and orphans. Confidential voluntary counselling and testing will also be available at workplaces for employees and their families, providing opportunities for testing and referrals for treatment where necessary.

Workplace Wellness and HIV & AIDS programmes are an effective and important aspect of the global response to HIV and AIDS. Participation in initiatives such as the ILO’s “Getting to Zero at Work” and “VCT @ Work” promote access to testing, counselling and treatment for workers and their families contributing to Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS related deaths.

VCT at Scanlink in Zimbabwe

VCT at Scanlink in Zimbabwe

Gender Based Violence

ribbon-whiteGender based violence has been identified as one of the significant drivers of HIV infection, consequently the elimination of violence against women is important in addressing the HIV pandemic. Women who fear or experience violence lack the power to ask their partners to use condoms or to refuse unprotected sex, and fear of violence can prevent women from learning and/or sharing their HIV status and accessing treatment. Women who face intimate partner violence are at a 50% increased risk of acquiring HIV (UNAIDS).

SWHAP-supported workplaces in partnership with service providers work to address underlying social and cultural conditions that put women at risk. Workshops bringing men and women together to discuss gender based violence, rape and sexual harassment are conducted regularly in the workplaces. Additionally, education through industrial theatre and role play encourages open communication about harmful gender norms and stereotypes which promote unequal power relations. Women are empowered with information on how to respond to different types of violence and how to identify sources of help. Discussion forums for male employees promote the adoption of safer and responsible sexual practices, actively engaging men in efforts to address gender based violence.

Other strategies which address women’s risk to HIV include Women’s Wellness Days which provide opportunities for testing in supportive environments and Spouse Peer Educator network meetings, offering life skills training on HIV risk and prevention. Additionally spousal clubs in Zambia have provided seed capital for income generating projects for the Spouse Peer Educators who are predominately female, improving their access to economic activities, an important determinant in addressing the disproportionate risk faced by women in regards to HIV.

At national levels, SWHAP is, for example, represented on the Zimbabwe National Technical Working Group on Gender and HIV/AIDS, working to ensure the inclusion of women in governance and socio-economic participation.

Condom distribution at Sodeico Women's Wellness Day in the DRC

Condom distribution at Sodeico Women’s Wellness Day in the DRC

The 25th of November marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. To participate in the “Orange the World in 16 Days”, an initiative highlighting efforts to prevent and end violence against women, follow this link.

Addressing Diabetes in the Workplace – World Diabetes Day 14th November

Diabetes is a big problem, creating an economic burden on society due to the costs of treatment and decrease in productivity as a result of absenteeism or disability. Worldwide 370 million people are living with the disease and another 280 million are at risk. The World Health Organisation and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimate that the diabetes population in Africa will double over the next 25 years. The main cause for this sharp increase is being attributed to increased urbanisation with sub-Saharan Africa being the most affected region. Urbanisation is associated with, the adoption of diets high in fat, sugar and salt as well as decreased regular physical activity and obesity. The complications of Type 2 Diabetes which include heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations, and kidney failure are expensive to treat but can largely be avoided through early detection, treatment adherence and lifestyle changes.

Screening for diabetes, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and HIV during a Wellness Day at Atlas Copco South Africa

Screening for diabetes, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and HIV during a Wellness Day at Atlas Copco South Africa

Education and prevention are thus key in addressing diabetes. At SWHAP supported workplaces in sub-Saharan Africa, information on the causes, prevention and treatment of diabetes is shared during awareness sessions and Workplace Wellness Days provide opportunities for screening for employees and their families. This is important in a region where more than 80% of people do not know they have the disease (IDF). Companies working in partnership with service providers also provide follow up services for those employees at risk of developing diabetes to encourage positive lifestyle changes. These services are complementary to initiatives already in the workplace such as healthy meals options in canteens and programmes such as “The Biggest Loser” at Atlas Copco South Africa and Zimbabwe which encourage employees to lose weight through healthier diets and regular exercise.

Addressing the modifiable risk factors of diabetes is also of benefit to employees affected by other communicable and non- communicable diseases including HIV as preventative steps in relation to nutrition and lifestyle changes can assist in keeping the immune system healthy.