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’
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
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
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.”
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
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.”