Treatment of HIV/AIDS at South Africa's Largest Employers: Myth and Reality
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Background: In the past three years, many large employers in South Africa have announced publicly their intention of making antiretroviral treatment (ART) available to employees. Reports of the scope and success of these programs have been mostly anecdotal. This study surveyed the largest private sector employers in South Africa to determine the proportion of employees with access to ART through employer-sponsored HIV/AIDS treatment programs. Methods: All 64 private sector and parastatal employers in South Africa with more than 6,000 employees were identified and contacted. Those that agreed to participate were interviewed by telephone using a structured questionnaire. Results: 52 companies agreed to participate. Among these companies, 63% of employees had access to employer-sponsored care and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Access varied widely by sector, however. Approximately 27% of suspected HIV-positive employees were enrolled in HIV/AIDS disease management programs, or 4.4% of the workforce overall. Fewer than 4,000 employees in the entire sample were receiving antiretroviral therapy. In-house (employer) disease management programs and independent disease management programs achieved higher uptake of services than did medical aid schemes. Conclusions: Publicity by large employers about their treatment programs should be interpreted cautiously. While there is a high level of access to treatment, uptake of services is low and only a small fraction of employees medically eligible for antiretroviral therapy are receiving it.