SWAZILAND: Business coalition launches HIV/AIDS mitigation plan
Impact of AIDS seen at every level of business
mbabane, 27 April 2005 (IRIN) - Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have the potential to lift living standards and build a new generation of entrepreneurs, but in Swaziland that strategy is being challenged by AIDS.
"I am HIV negative, but my past two work supervisors left because of illness. They grew so thin that you knew the cause," said Charles Mtetfwa, a contractor in the central commercial town of Manzini.
"It wasn't in my heart to retrench them. I believe it was right to follow my heart, but my bottom line is hit when so many workers get sick," he acknowledged.
Swaziland has the world's highest adult HIV prevalence rate - over 42 percent. A conference for aspiring new business people and established SMEs, which opened on Tuesday, repeatedly heard of the impact of the pandemic on employees and company profits.
For Margaret Simelane, a single mother who runs a small stationary shop, AIDS has made it harder to keep a business going and provide for three small children.
"It used to be that you could at least count on your family to support your new business, because Swazis have such large families. But so many of my relatives are sick, and all the extra money goes to taking care of them," she said.
Simelane attended the week-long conference to learn how to tender for the stationary business of large companies exhibiting there, such as the government-owned telephone company and big manufacturing firms. But even these companies acknowledge the impact of AIDS on their profits, due to lower worker productivity, more sick leave, and unfulfilled contracts.
However, Swazi employers are fighting back by setting up a Business Coalition against HIV and AIDS, with a comprehensive mitigation plan. All leading corporations have signed up for the programme, and the coalition was at the conference to also enlist SMEs.
"AIDS is a major concern to us," Henry du Pont, president of the federation of Swazi businesses told the meeting, which was opened by King Mswati III. "Its effects are seen in every business, and in the aggregate with national economic performance."
One direct benefit of the business mitigation plan has been the approach taken by banks to financing SMEs. Representatives from the four banks that grant small business loans - Standard Bank Swaziland, Swazi Bank, FinCorp and Swaziland Building Society - told IRIN they would not deny loans to people who were infected with the HI virus.
"It is true that many people are HIV positive, but we don't demand blood tests," one loan officer confirmed.