World Health Day 2014 –Small bite, big threat

The focus of World Health Day this year is vector-borne diseases. Vector-borne diseases include malaria, dengue, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, schistosomiasis and yellow fever and are carried by mosquitoes, bugs, ticks, flies, freshwater snails and other vectors. According to the World Health Organisation more than half of the world’s population is at risk of these diseases. Apart from untold suffering, these diseases are also responsible for decreased productivity, employee absenteeism and increased health-care costs.

Poor hygiene and poor water and waste management are contributing factors to most common vector-borne diseases. This makes an integrated approach using a range of interventions such as treated bed-nets, indoor residual spraying, awareness raising programmes, water and waste management necessary for prevention and control.  Workplaces are an important arena to raise awareness on the vector-borne diseases and to support national intervention and control programmes. Workplace HIV and Wellness Programmes within the SWHAP network have embraced a comprehensive approach to wellness addressing environmental factors that put employees and their families at risk of disease. Companies such as Atlas Copco in Zambia run programmes ensuring access to safer water supplies whilst in Zimbabwe, Sandvik champions environmental awareness and clean-up operations in its community.

Malaria takes a high toll in regions hard hit by HIV and AIDS as it has been proven to worsen the effects of HIV and AIDS and vice versa. Many SWHAP supported companies, particularly in Zambia and DRC include malaria prevention in their workplace programme as a strategy to mitigate the impact of malaria. Treated bed-nets are distributed to employees and their families in areas where malaria is a problem.  Companies report significant reduction in absenteeism as a result of both the HIV and malaria programmes. Programmes also extend into communities with some companies supporting national intervention programmes.

Environmental awareness campaign at Sandvik Zimbabwe

Environmental awareness campaign at Sandvik Zimbabwe

Distributing bed nets at Amazon Motors Kenya

Distributing bed nets at Amazon Motors Kenya

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World Tuberculosis Day – 24 March: Managing TB in the workplace

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis which most commonly affects the lungs. TB is easily spread from person to person via droplets in the air when a person with the active respiratory disease coughs or sneezes. As much as one third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means they have been infected by the bacteria but do not have the active tuberculosis disease. In 2012 1.3 million people died of TB, 95% of these deaths occurred in low to medium income countries (WHO). TB mostly affects the productive segment of society with serious economic consequences. An employee with TB may lose an average of 3-4 months of work and income. As for businesses operating in high prevalence settings, TB is bad news, as sick workers mean reduced productivity, absenteeism and associated costs (Stop TB).

The good news is that TB is treatable and curable for a relatively low cost. The workplace is an ideal arena to raise public awareness on the disease and ensure that employees suffering from the disease have access to screening and treatment. Prompt diagnosis and early treatment is beneficial as it curbs absenteeism and reduces the likelihood of transmission to other workers.

Workplace HIV and wellness programmes within the SWHAP network are working towards addressing the many factors that contribute to the health and wellbeing of employees at the workplace. TB management is integrated into HIV and wellness programmes. The risk of TB is greater in people suffering from conditions that impair the immune system such as HIV (TB is the major cause of death among people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa). Moreover there is evidence of links between TB and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. Employees within the SWHAP network are educated on modifiable risk factors impacting health such as nutrition, exercise, avoidance of alcohol and smoking. Disease management and employee support programmes mean that employees with TB have greater opportunities for early diagnosis, treatment and  receiving support within the workplace. Support is an important element in addressing TB as treatment can take up to nine months with adherence being essential for avoiding multi-drug resistant TB.

Elements of a workplace TB Programme

TB workplace programmes should:

  • Be integrated into existing workplace HIV and/ or wellness programmes
  • Offer opportunities for diagnosis
  • Include programmes that address stigma and raise awareness
  • Provide treatment at the workplace either through an in house programme or collaboration with the public health systems
  • Ensure a healthy working environment that is well ventilated and free from dust
  • Offer support programmes for employees on treatment
  • Reach out to families of employees through medical insurance and or improved access to the public health system

Adapted from Stop TB

International Women’s Day

International Women’s day celebrated on the 8th of March is a time to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. According to the World Bank, gender equity is key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, “putting resources into poor women’s hands while promoting gender equity in households and society results in large development payoffs”.

Celebrating Women in SWHAP

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Poverty and gender inequality are some of the factors contributing to the spread and greatest impact of HIV.Two workplace programme coordinators from the SWHAP network share their perspectives on the theme for International Women’s Day, “Equality for women is progress for all”:


Claire Mawana, Programme Coordinator, Ericsson DRC

“Equality for women is progress for all”. What does this mean for you?

This is an opportunity for women to prove their capabilities and show their potential to contribute to development in their communities. The same opportunities must be given to all, both men and women, to contribute in promoting health at the workplace, implementing mechanisms for prevention and sustainable workplace programmes and to address diseases which are specific to women.

How have you been working to promote gender equity in your workplace programme?

I had the opportunity to be part of the steering committee which was appointed to implement the programme last year, and by working hard, proving that what matters is not gender but what you can contribute towards successful programme implementation, I am now coordinating the programme for 2014.

KediousKedious Mphiningo, Programme Coordinator, Revco Zimbabwe 

How have you been working to promote gender equity in your workplace programme?

Through our community outreach programme we have initiated a micro lending “Wellness and Banking Club” for unemployed women in our community. Women meet and pool their resources together and borrow against that fund to start income generating projects. The Wellness and Banking Club is also a platform for participants to learn information about health and wellness. Participants gather on the last Saturday of each month for workshops on topics such as HIV, financial wellness, self-esteem, women in leadership, as well as technical assistance on running businesses.

Is gender equity important for men?

Yes, gender equity is not just important but beneficial for men. Some of the problems that our nation is facing will fall away, for example poverty, if gender equity is promoted. I strongly believe in the 2014 theme, there must be equality in positions and resource allocation. Once we all see each other as equal, then progress really begins.

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Gender Based Violence ‎

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.