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Care goes viral

South Africa, Atlas Copco makes a commitment to keeping employees healthy – a promise that has been life-saving for workers living with HIV.

In 2009, Johannes Rapula Phetoe felt tired and lost his appetite. He sensed, he says, that “everything for me was not all right.” 

At the time, Phetoe had worked for Atlas Copco for about a year. Tests revealed that he was HIV positive. “They checked my CD4,” the key white blood cell count. “It was 13.” (The normal range is between 500 and 1 500 cells per cubic millimeter.)

At that level, Phetoe’s immune system was critically compromised. But Atlas Copco’s award-winning healthcare program was immediately on the case, providing him the necessary antiretroviral drugs. Today Phetoe is back at work and feeling good, with a CD4 count above 250. “

If I was working for another company maybe I would be dead right now,” says Phetoe, who is 34 and married with a 6-year-old daughter. “I want to thank Atlas Copco very much.” 

HIV is a terrible problem in South Africa, where more than 5 million people are estimated to live with the infection. In 2001, Atlas Copco decided to take action, launching its HIV/AIDS program. By 2004, virtually every employee had been tested. “

The trainers were really good and put the staff at ease,” says Wendy Buffa-Pace, Group Human Resources Manager in Johannesburg. “And our managing director made a statement by being first to get the test.”

The program involves twice-yearly testing by a third-party provider, Reality Wellness, which keeps results strictly anonymous. But just as important is constant employee education, through seminars, an awareness training video and more, about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “Behind every toilet door is a poster, and we give away condoms in all the bathrooms,” says Buffa-Pace, who has worked with the program since 2003 and calls it her true passion.

The results? Nothing short of remarkable. To date, every employee who has tested HIV negative has remained that way. At the same time, 8.4 percent of new employees – at last count – tested positive. They and their spouses receive ongoing counselling and whatever medications they need.

The program has received considerable positive feedback. In both 2009 and 2010, Atlas Copco won the Achievement Award for “best workplace program” from the Swedish Workplace HIV/AIDS Programme, which focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa. The company’s efforts reap financial benefits, saving Atlas Copco money in reduced sick leave and staff turnover. The program’s success has inspired the company to expand it to other countries.

These days, Johannes Phetoe has his own agenda. “I want to educate others to get tested,” he says. “Some of our people are scared to get the test. They think if you are positive, you will die. It’s not true. HIV doesn’t kill.” No one could be better proof.  

Wall in Johannesburg - Photo: Atlas Copco

More information is available on www.swhap.org
For Atlas Copco social responsibility programmes please
visit www.atlascopco.com/corporateresponsibility.

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