ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 19

Bankers battle deadly disease

With lessons from Africa, the Standard Chartered Bank in Sri Lanka has launched an awareness programme,‘get to know your status on HIV/AIDS’

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

You are infected or affected!

This is how, in the simplest manner possible, top banker Ann Grant who was in Sri Lanka for the recent Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Conference, puts into perspective the importance of HIV/AIDS.

A strange link – banking and HIV? According to Ms. Grant business is about competitive advantage and there is a strong business cost of doing nothing in the case of HIV. “Our bank,” stresses 58-year-old Ms. Grant, Vice Chairman of Standard Chartered, “is a designer bank which is leaving its footprint for others to follow. The bank has been in business for 150 years and wants to be in business for another 150.”

That was where the roots in the bank’s heavy involvement with HIV lay. As banks compete on talent and that talent would depend on the quality of the workforce, four to five years ago, Standard Chartered came to a gradual realization in Africa. “The signs were small and came to the notice of the bank informally. Employee absence – either they were sick, they were looking after some family member who was sick or they had to attend the funeral of someone who had died. All coming down to HIV,” she says explaining that the bank, as an employer couldn’t ignore the signs.

The Sri Lankans putting together a country plan at the training session in Mumbai with support from their
Indian colleagues.

Bank operations in southern Africa began to be impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. There was an impact on business, says Ms. Grant who is Vice Chairman of Standard Chartered Capital Markets Limited. “HIV has no cure and no vaccination as yet. It’s going only one way.”

Wanting a healthy and stable workforce which has now burgeoned to about 50,000 and realizing that education and awareness were of vital importance, in 2000, Standard Chartered launched the pioneering HIV/AIDS employee education ‘Staying Alive’ programme in Africa followed in 2002 by ‘Living with HIV’ in all 56 countries in which it works. Under the bank’s health scheme, anti-retroviral treatment for HIV is part of the package deal not only for each and every infected employee but also for their infected family members.

By 2005, Standard Chartered Bank had found a champion for its HIV/AIDS programmes in the form of Ms. Grant who had not only worked as a primary schoolteacher with the British Voluntary Services Overseas in Uganda but also held a gamut of high profile jobs with the final one being the British High Commissioner to South Africa from 2000-2005.

In Sri Lanka recently as part of the Commonwealth Business Council’s delegation at the Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ meeting in Colombo, Ms. Grant deals with the harsh facts of HIV. “The problem with HIV/AIDS is that it is never put on the death certificate as the cause of death. You die of something else. So, statistics don’t reflect the reality. The only reliable statistic is when mothers get tested at maternity clinics.” The bank is pushing its employees to get to know their status with regard to HIV. Are you positive or negative? “We know our blood pressure and our cholesterol level, why not our status with regard to HIV/AIDS,” she asks. “That’s what we are encouraging our employees to do -- get themselves tested. They certainly don’t need to tell the bank what their status is. This should be done as a matter of course. It should done sensitively, taking into account local conditions.”

Get to know your status, if you are HIV positive, we’ll support you, is the clear message the bank is sending to its employees.

The bank’s efforts have paid off in some areas, with 80% of employees in one bank in Africa getting themselves tested, after a special drive.Sadly, according to her, 90% of HIV-infected people don’t know they are positive, only 10% know.

Dealing with the crucial aspects of prevention, awareness, education and treatment, Ms. Grant urges Asia to look at the African experience and learn from it, as the epidemic has now moved from Africa to Asia. “What are we doing in Africa? People have taken things into their own hands. The African experience can be brought to Asia,” she says.

Referring to the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) to be held in Colombo in August 2007, Ms. Grant says the spotlight will be on the country and a great opportunity will arise to deal with important issues. Standard Chartered Bank is the principal global corporate sponsor and official bank to the Congress. “I know Sri Lanka is a HIV low-prevalence country. It needs to be kept that way.”

Meet the champions

It’s a purely voluntary scheme. Kisholi de Mel, 24, Manik Welikala and Sri Ganendran, 27, of Standard Chartered Bank who have just returned from Mumbai after training are the ‘HIV Champions’ to their 400 colleagues at 10 branches and one mini branch in Sri Lanka.


“We underwent a special training and are ready to launch awareness programmes among the bank’s staff,” says Sri who is head of Operational Risks for Consumer Banking, while Kisholi, Corporate Affairs Coordinator, talks of the ripple effect they are hoping to create.

To spread the right messages firstly among their peers, then other bankers and ultimately among other corporates, is their vision.

TheCchampions before us had launched a successful awareness campaign among trishaw drivers, getting them to display posters in their vehicles in 2004. They had even visited some red-light areas, says Kisholi.


Adds Ms. Grant: Our CEO boasts about our HIV Champions across the world. Usually when you read about HIV you get disheartened and depressed. It is a sombre subject. But when you talk to people including the bank’s HIV Champions, it is never depressing. All the things they do, however small, cheer you up.”

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.