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Workplace communication for HIV prevention

Frew Murdoch

The third South African National HIV Communication Survey results revealed new information showing considerable increases in behaviours that reduce the risk of HIV such as condom use, HIV counselling and testing and voluntary medical male circumcision.

This article is going to focus on how communication through the media and from person to person is important in order to influence behaviour change that leads to successful prevention of HIV.

The HIV National Communication Survey 2012 (NCS) shows that roughly 80% of South Africans have been exposed to media programmes created as means to combat the spread of HIV. According to the article ‘Communication key to behaviour change’ by Khopotso Bodibe, the programmes have had the effect of encouraging people to adopt practices that assist in protecting them from infection. Bodibe says: ‘The added benefit has been the creation of an enabling environment for people to share information with many others, thus spreading the word of HIV prevention.’

Communication does not only come in the form of loveLife campaigns but also in everyday communication. Interactions between couples, friends and colleagues also have an effect on the extent to which the word is spread.

Encouraging communication about HIV in the business environment is important as a means of influencing behaviour change towards HIV. Most individuals spend the majority of their time from Monday through to Friday at their respective places of work. This makes the ‘business space’ the perfect environment for exposure to HIV prevention communication.

Workplace programmes need to inform employees of the latest research and knowledge relating to HIV, not just the same-old idea that one must wear condoms in order to protect them.

The NCS was managed by Dr Saul Johnson of Health and Development Africa. He had this to share about condom usage: “It’s higher among young people; it’s higher among people engaging in casual sex. As people get older and as people get into more stable relationships, they tend to stop using condoms. That’s why its so important to combine the information on condom use with the information on HIV testing because the rational thing that people are saying is: ‘You don’t know somebody. You don’t know their status. You start having a relationship with them. You start off using condoms.’ But then, the concern is over time, that people stop using condoms once that relationship develops.”

How can HR practitioners help curb the spreab of HIV and increase communication in the year 2012? Why not use the technology trend to stay on top?

One way employers can make the latest news and research of HIV and AIDs easily accessible to their employees is by ‘posting’ or publishing the latest HIV knowledge on the business’s intranet. By creating a ‘site’ on the intranet, the employer shows their concern for their employee’s health and gives their employee’s the opportunity to read the information in their own private time and space. This ensures that the integrity of the business’s employees is respected at all times.

Companies also need to ensure that they have or are going to adopt an up-to-date HIV/AIDS education program that discusses how HIV is transmitted and explains the business’s policies in terms of employees living with HIV/AIDS. Businesses must make sure that in communicating with employees about HIV/AIDS, that they remain objective and do not discriminate against HIV/AIDS. Companies need to treat people living with HIV/AIDS in the same manner as any other employee who is suffering with a disability or illness that is treated under the company health plans and policies.

HIV’s significance has to be acknowledged by all businesses as the diseases directly affect an organisation’s performance. It affects organisations’ performance by increasing the death rate of employees, absenteeism due to illness and even customers and service providers are lost due to AIDS.

According to ‘Implementing a Workplace HIV/AIDS Programme – why and how?’, up to 40% of the South African workforce is HIV-positive. This shows the extent of which HIV affects the employers of South Africa. Not only does it affect performance, it also costs organisations money. It indirectly affects companies by increasing poverty, which influences the supply and demand for goods and services.

HIV is going to be prevalent in South Africa for a long time. There is nothing hinting that a cure is around the corner so knowledge and communication are the only weapons for employers, employees and people in general, in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Frew Murdoch is the assistant editor of HR Pulse. She has a BA degree in communications and English and a passion for HR technology.

Christine Botha, co-author of 'Ethics in HR Management: A guide for HR professionals and line managers', had this to say:

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