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2005-12-01-Managing Africa's HIV/Aids crisis
By Martin Shankleman
BBC Radio 2 business correspondent
For corporations working in Africa, the Aids crisis cannot be ignored.
Barclays Bank is at the forefront of tackling the problems with a radical programme for staff and their families.
Staff are offered confidential testing, while infected employees can receive free drug therapy for both themselves and up to three members of their family.
"We tell staff, 'If you are positive, you will get support and we will help you live a normal life'," says Regional Partner Paul Kasimu, the man behind the ground-breaking scheme.
The imitative was prompted by an anonymous testing programme in Botswana in 2001 which revealed around one third of staff were HIV-positive, causing serious problems for managers.
"A lot of people were retiring on the grounds of ill-health, just being declared unable to work, because they were HIV-positive. General staff morale was low, and the other concern was absenteeism," says Mr Kasimu.
Barclays also found the cost of providing emergency health treatment for staff was eating into profits.
But the new regime has led a big improvement. "Morale has improved, general staff productivity has improved and people are our most important resource," says Mr Kasimu.
Corporate profits in Africa have doubled in recent years, which he links directly to the success of the Aids programme.
"It's sound business sense," he explains, "and the cost of not doing it is about four times as much. If you ignore your most important resource, you can't run a business. On the other hand, if you do invest in this, you will get better returns than before."
Barclays work with health insurance companies who operate the package. The cost to the bank is ￡90 a year for each employee. With 40,000 African employees, that totals ￡3.5m.
The next step for Paul's work is to take the message beyond Barclays into the broad community.
A joint scheme with Unicef in South Africa will aim to educate girls about the disease. The plan is to treat 1.5 million youngsters, at a cost of ￡350,000.
"We want to see if we can improve awareness around HIV and Aids, improve infection rates and generally empower people to take charge of their lives," he said.