Tackling HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS has an impact on our employees and on our business; ending the epidemic is a priority for both individuals and economies.

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People are living with HIV/AIDS

In recent years, advances in health interventions have reduced the incidence of HIV/AIDS. In 2017, 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV, a drop of 20% since 2013.1

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. The consequences for individuals and communities can be devastating.

We formulated our first policy on HIV in 1989. Since then we have maintained our resolve to combat the disease 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.

Addressing HIV is a specific objective of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3: Good health and well-being. But it has an impact even beyond the critical issue of health - because HIV can hold back the achievement of many SDGs, including economic development, education, and women's empowerment. In fact, UNAIDS has mapped an effective HIV response as contributing to ten of the 17 SDGs.

Our approach to HIV/AIDS

Our HIV/AIDS programmes are an integral component of our medical and occupational health strategy and are a priority for our business. We revised our HIV/AIDS policy in 2016. This means it now embraces the principles and recommendations set out by the International Labour Organization (2010) and the UN High Level Meeting (2011), and is based on human rights ethics in accordance with the UN High Level Meeting on Ending HIV (2016).

What do our occupational health strategies cover?

Our programmes focus on:

  • access to primary healthcare
  • protecting health in the workplace
  • ensuring medical fitness for the job
  • actively promoting health and well-being.

Our company-wide standard of healthcare reinforces our commitment to the care and protection of employees living with the disease, and to helping prevent new infections. The standard underpins our approach to prevent discrimination against employees based on HIV status and to offer care and support when needed. It’s based on the principle of treating HIV/AIDS similarly to any other chronic disease, and providing appropriate steps to combat it. To this end, we’ve integrated our HIV/AIDS programme into Lamplighter, our global health and well-being programme.

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 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.

Assessing the impact of our 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.


South Africa map

Encouraging progress, but more to do

Our first HIV programmes were run for employees in South Africa. While the epidemic remains a severe challenge to South African society and to our employees there, the impact of our programmes since 1989 shows that progress can be made.

According to UNAIDS statistics, in 2017 18.8% of South Africans were living with AIDS. This statistic, known as prevalence, 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, prevalence is close to 23%. Among our employees there, however, prevalence is 7.5% - which is 68% lower than the regional average.

Prevalence, though important, is not the only indicator we use to gauge impact. Thankfully, advances in treatment mean that we’re able to help more and more people with HIV survive - which means that the number of people living with the disease is stabilising. So we also measure 'incidence' - the number of new cases. Incidence was 58% lower for Unilever employees in South Africa in 2017 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. Our continued focus remains on three critical areas:

  • including and improving participation of business partners, third parties, contacted 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.

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Good Health and Wellbeing)

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 2017, for example, 4,289 employees of Unilever Tea Kenya took an HIV test. There were 96 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, and among other initiatives in 2017, we:

  • distributed 1,080,000 condoms through our medical facilities
  • provided anti-retroviral treatment to 1,578 employees at no cost to them
  • enabled 2,332 voluntary male medical circumcisions to reduce the risk of HIV transmission
  • saw 259 mothers for ante-natal care with no new positive cases.

It’s a source of pride for our local programme that since 2013, no child with a positive-tested mother has tested HIV-positive at delivery. I’m really happy to see how the hard work of the Unilever Tea Kenya health team has taken Unilever global experience in raising awareness, prevention and treatment of HIV to yet again keep those rates down so low. We intend to continue these efforts.

Nick Yiannakis, Managing Director of Unilever Tea Kenya

In 2014 we collated our experiences in tackling HIV/AIDS.


Our 25 year HIV programme in Africa

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”.

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Good Health and Wellbeing)

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 organizations, such as UNAIDS, PEPFAR, USAID, WHO, the World Economic Forum, the 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.


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