Stanford Chiwanga, Online News Editor
THE Minister of Industry and Commerce Mike Bimha has lamented the damage HIV and AIDS have had on the Zimbabwe workforce and said this devastation has reversed development and retarded the economic growth of the country.
Addressing business people at the National AIDS Council (NAC) Business Conference on HIV and AIDS at Holiday Inn Hotel in Bulawayo, Minister Bimha said regardless of “significant progress made in the response to HIV” the country was still grappling with problems brought about by the disease.
“We still face challenges that require cooperation and participation of all sectors to effectively tame the AIDS pandemic. This is in consistent with the multi-sectorial approach to the management of the response that Zimbabwe adopted, wherein various sectors collaborate to address the pandemic.
“The mining sector and engineering sector are one of the sectors that have been tremendously affected by labour losses due to HIV and AIDS. Active and able bodied people in their productive stages have been decimated by the pandemic. The results of that have been all around us. We have lost colleagues resulting in a reversal of developmental gains that the country recorded over the years,” he said.
Minister Bimha said companies have had to contend with a sick workforce and have lost money as a result.
“In addition to death, there has been a lot of absenteeism and sick leave and in that process our employees have lost a lot of money. The employers have had to expend huge sums of money on sick leave payments, medical aid costs, funeral costs, recruitment and retraining costs.
“The loss of manpower has been a major challenge to government as it has ripple effects not only on the economy but also on the social fabric of the country. Apart from spending astronomical amounts of money on HIV treatment, the government has also had to bear with a big number of orphans and vulnerable children whose parents have been prematurely taken away from life,” he added.
The Minister challenged companies to come up with ways to fight the HIV and AIDS scourge at the workplace.
He said: “Although there are some companies that have done quite well in implementing HIV and AIDS programmes at the workplace, the figures coming out of NAC indicate the number of workers reached with HIV and AIDS interventions keeps declining from quarter to quarter.
“Employers therefore have a responsibility and I must emphasise it here. Business executives must now start prioritising localised responses to HIV and AIDS. While you always think about profits, I want to encourage you to consider profits in their corrective perspective – you can never build a successful productive enterprise if your workforce is not healthy.”