Standard Chartered Bank explains why it is good business to fight HIV/AIDS
The Sri Lanka Coalition on HIV/AIDS was launched on Tuesday during the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP). The coalition is spearheaded by the Standard Chartered Bank as part of the bank’s ongoing programme against HIV/AIDS. The bank also runs a global programme against HIV/AIDS in the 56 countries it operates in. The Vice Chairman of Standard Chartered Capital Markets, Ann Grant explains why.
What is the Sri Lanka Coalition on HIV/AIDS?
The coalition is an attempt to get more businesses involved in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Already 21 companies have agreed to join the coalition, even before the launch. We have got together with the International Labour Organisation, trade unions, the Employers Federation of Ceylon, chambers of commerce and of course companies, to take an initial step towards addressing HIV/AIDS in Sri Lanka.
How did the bank get involved in HIV/AIDS activism?
We began to feel the impact of HIV/AIDS in eastern and southern Africa and that is where all this started. The business impacts were, for instance, in the form of high absenteeism. This was not just our employees falling sick but absenteeism because they have to look after sick family members, because they have to get medical attention for relatives and to attend funerals. So we had to train more and more people and recruit more and more people. We have a global workforce policy on HIV/AIDS now, stemming from this need for a healthy, stable workforce.
How does the bank’s policy on HIV/AIDS translate into
action in different countries?
We have a very comprehensive workplace policy on HIV/AIDS. Everybody gets a briefing on HIV/AIDS and we encourage testing.
We have businesses in 56 countries, so what we do in each country would depend on the country situation. For instance, in Sri Lanka, where there is low prevalence of HIV/AIDS, we focus on prevention and education. In countries where there is high prevalence we focus on care and treatment and in other countries we may focus on encouraging people to get themselves tested but overall, the focus is on prevention.
What about the bank’s HIV/AIDS champions?
We have around 60,000 employees worldwide. Out of that, one in every 250 becomes an HIV/AIDS champion. Sometimes it is more than one person for every 250 people. These Champions are educated about HIV/AIDS and spearhead programmes and activities on HIV/AIDS and are able to talk to their colleagues about it. This is all voluntary.
Is HIV/AIDS testing compulsory for Standard
Chartered Bank employees?
No absolutely not. This is completely voluntary and totally confidential. What we do is, point people to the nearest testing centre. We do encourage testing though. This is because 90% of HIV infected people don’t know they are infected. So how can they get help? Thus testing is really, really important and this has to be regular testing every 6 months because the virus could be dormant for some time. The test results are also completely confidential, but some of our employees have voluntarily come out with the information to their colleagues. This has also helped tackle the stigma, because the regular testing makes it normal. You know your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your HIV status. This is just something that all adults should know.
Most of our markets provide national testing facilities but the challenge is in trying to get people to use them. So in Thailand and Nepal we provide this information on ATM slips and on the ATM screen when people access them.
Does the bank support people that are diagnosed as HIV
They don’t need any extra support. They just need the treatment. In most countries there is national provision for treatment but if not, the bank will provide help. This is true of most responsible multinationals. It is more of a challenge with small and medium enterprises because they do not have our facilities and structures.
Does the bank continue to employ people that are found to
be HIV positive?
Yes, we do have a number of HIV positive people working for us. I do not want to reveal the number due to confidentiality reasons.
How is the bank spreading the word around the world?
We try to reach out to our suppliers and customers and
small and medium businesses. We provide them with
information material and volunteers for training.
Why is it important for businesses to worry about AIDS?
If you are in big business and working globally, if you don’t have a strong policy on HIV/AIDS, in five years time you will panic. This would be the case for most businesses because the world is globalising so fast. Russia has one of the fastest rates of HIV/AIDS growth and there are worrying signals from India and China as well.
So where ever you are, you have to know how to protect your business because the world is increasingly globalising. We have experienced what HIV/AIDS can do in eastern and southern Africa and we are quite convinced we are doing the right thing in dealing with it now.