HIV/AIDS has an impact on our employees and on our business; ending the epidemic is a priority for both individuals and economies.
People are living with HIV/AIDS
Since 1989 we have maintained our resolve to combat HIV/AIDS, not only in our workplace but also in wider society, through the use of partnerships. We’ve had some success in our workplaces in Africa where the incidence of HIV is now below the average and the mortality rate has dropped by up to 50%. But we know we have more to do.
Our HIV/AIDS programmes are integral to our medical and occupational health strategy and are a priority for our business. Our HIV/AIDS policy embraces the principles and recommendations set out by the International Labour Organization (2010) and the UN High Level Meeting (2011), based on human rights ethics in accordance with the UN High Level Meeting on Ending HIV (2016).
Measures such as behaviour-change campaigns, condom use and prevention of mother-to-child transmission have all helped. But HIV remains a huge problem, and we have seen the reality of people with HIV/AIDS presenting at our company clinics, particularly in Africa.
Our HIV/AIDS programme in Africa
The key inputs to our HIV/AIDS programme in Africa include:
- spreading awareness, information and education through employee ‘peer group educators’ and by training management groups in the latest developments
- voluntary counselling and testing by healthcare providers
- condom distribution for all employees
- providing anti-retroviral treatment based on World Health Organization guidelines
- monitoring treatment adherence and viral suppression
- treatment of tuberculosis and other opportunistic infections
- promotion of male medical circumcision.
In the case of pregnant women, we help with treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Women who test positive are provided with treatment to prevent transmission to their unborn children. We also offer testing to their partners, most of whom are not aware of their status. These policies are aligned with the key principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS.
Encouraging progress, but more to do
In 2018 an estimated 20.4% of South Africans were living with HIV.1 This statistic is horrifying – but in some regions the reality is even worse. In the KwaZulu Natal region, where three of our factories and head office are based, the number living with HIV is close to 23%. Among our employees there, however, prevalence is 8.9%, which is 61% lower than the regional average.
Thankfully, advances in treatment mean that we’re able to help more and more people with HIV survive. So we also measure 'incidence' – the number of new cases. In 2018 incidence was 0.5%, that is 42% lower for Unilever employees in South Africa than for the general population.
We want to see zero new cases, so we know there is more we need to do. But we believe our programmes have made a measurable contribution to improving the lives of our employees and their communities – and to SDG target 3.3, which is to end the epidemic of AIDS and other communicable diseases. We’re maintaining our focus on three critical areas:
- including and improving participation of business partners, third parties, contracted employees and the communities around our facilities
- ensuring the availability of medication, and monitoring adherence and response to treatment through measuring viral suppression
- addressing the mental health effects of the epidemic: depression, anxiety and panic conditions as well as substance abuse as an escape mechanism. Support is given via our Employee Assistance Programme services to assist employees on disclosure to family members and how to gain support at home.
This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goal
Protecting our tea workers
Our work in Africa includes the care and protection of our tea workers. Employees at our estates in Tanzania and at Kericho in Kenya are included in our global Lamplighter programme, and HIV statistics indicate that they are at significantly lower risk than the general population in the region, but that serious challenges remain in the region.
In 2019, for example, 4,289 employees of Unilever Tea East Africa took an HIV test. In Unilever Tea Kenya, there were only 75 positive results. The incidence rate of 2.2% is lower than Kericho county, which has a rate of 3.2%. It’s also lower than Kenya’s overall rate of 6.2%. But it is still tragically high. We want to deliver a greater impact. That's why we have adopted the UNAIDS 95/95/95 by 2030 Targets in our approach, which means that by the year 2030, 95% of employees should know their HIV status. 95% of staff diagnosed will be started on treatment, and 95% of patients on treatment will have viral suppression.
Among other initiatives, in 2019, we:
- distributed approximately 1,440,000 condoms through our medical facilities
- provided anti-retroviral treatment to 4,239 employees at no cost to them. This includes treatment for opportunistic infections
- enabled 2,637 voluntary male medical circumcisions to reduce the risk of HIV transmission
- saw 262 mothers for ante-natal care with NO new positive cases.
Assessing the impact of our HIV programmes
Our first local HIV programme started more than 25 years ago in the form of a life-threatening disease policy in South Africa. We went on to develop a roadmap for implementing a comprehensive programme across all our sites, using global and local business coalition networks to substantially increase testing and treatment in Africa. In 2010 we revised our roadmap to include the latest technologies, treatments and prevention-campaign methods, tailored to the HIV/AIDS risk in different countries. And in 2012, we published our results and shared them with leading HIV/AIDS experts to gain insight to help shape our future strategy.
In 2014 we collated our experiences in tackling HIV/AIDS.
The results of our HIV programme in Africa
We published a 25-year review of our efforts to combat HIV in Africa (PDF | 7MB) in 2014. As Doug Baillie, our Chief Human Resources Officer at the time, said:
“As we look back, we can see we have made progress and we are pleased to report a 30–50% drop in mortality across our sites, with an incidence rate that is at least 50% less than the national average.
Mother-to-child transmission has dropped to under 1% due to treatment for all, and the quality of life of our employees and families has improved through our Lamplighter programme.”
Recognising the ongoing need for care of HIV/AIDS, he also acknowledged that “more needs to be done in the workplace and we are committed to the ILO’s recommendation of getting to zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths”.
Working with others to drive change
We’re one of the founding members of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC). We work closely with a range of other international organisations, such as UNAIDS, PEPFAR, USAID, WHO, the World Economic Forum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the WWA (Workplace Wellness Alliance) as well as the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. In the spirit of sharing our learning, our programmes are available as models on the GBC and the Global Health Initiative websites.
World AIDS Day
We believe it’s important to mark World AIDS Day each December. Our sites contribute to awareness campaigns using a combination of the GBC, UNAIDS and WHO on HIV/AIDS campaign materials and local NGO and government messages.