SMEs called to join HIV/AIDS fight in Africa

A report by Business Action for Africa highlights the role the private sector plays in fighting HIV/AIDS in developing countries and urges for best practice to be shared more effectively in order to involve more companies, in particular SMEs, in the process.

The report, by Business Action for Africa, an international network of businesses to support growth policies and poverty reduction, highlights the role of the private sector in fighting HIV and AIDS in developing countries, where government resources are often insufficient to deal with the epidemic.

The multinationals cited in the report, including brewer SABMiller and pharmaceutical giant Merck, Sharp & Dohme, are praised for having put in place “comprehensive prevention, treatment and care programmes that reach beyond their workplaces into the broader community”. 

However, Business Action for Africa deplores that many companies, in particular SMEs (who employ a large proportion of the workforce), lack the resources to implement the programmes. According to the report, the majority of companies operating in Africa have no HIV programme in place. This is despite clear incentives for business to safeguard a healthy workforce and customer base.

“There is an urgent need to try to help small businesses become more proactively engaged in fighting HIV and AIDS,” said Christine Thompson of SABMiller, who is working to find innovative ways for companies to work with donors and the government. 

The Stop AIDS Alliance and the Dutch AIDS Foundation describe the Business Action for Africa as a “good initiative by the private sector to provide support to employees affected by HIV and AIDS in whichever way they can.” However, they point out that it remains limited to large companies, whereas SMEs are the biggest employer in the region. They urge sharing best practice among the private sector and civil society in order to strengthen the capacities of SMEs “to provide support in whichever way possible to respond to the epidemic”. 

Furthermore, the NGOs state that “it is also imperative that these businesses collaborate closely with the national governments in order to support a form of welfare system for staff affected by HIV/AIDS.” They highlight a Dutch initiative from Health Insurance Partnerships, where businesses, governments and NGOs collaborate to facilitate access to education, prevention, treatment and care to the communities in which they are located, as a good example of good practice in this area. 

In the framework of this initiative, NGOs provide the services and the governments – together with businesses – an insurance scheme. The private sector also helps in providing commodities and hardware. 

The European Commission, which has a special policy framework to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis through external action in developing countries, is also encouraging the private sector to invest more in these countries.

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