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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Old Mutual offers staff anti-Aids drugs
Aids patient
One in nine South Africans is infected with HIV
HIV-positive workers at finance giant Old Mutual are to be offered life-prolonging anti-Aids drugs, in a sign of growing corporate willingness to tackle the impact of the disease.

Old Mutual, South Africa's biggest insurance firm, said it would expand its medical aid programme to offer the drugs to the 600 members of its staff believed to be infected with HIV, the virus which causes Aids.


We believe that insurance companies have contributed to the genocide of people who died prematurely on HIV/Aids related illnesses

Napwa
The company did not detail the cost of providing anti-Aids treatment, which could prolong the working life of recipients by at least 10 years.

"What is the price of a human life when you can save people and their dependants?" chief executive Roddy Sparks said.

But he admitted the move would cost the firm "millions".

"At some stage there's more to (this than) costs," he added.

"We're always closely watching our bottom line, but we have made this decision on a corporate conscience basis."

National debate

The move adds Old Mutual to the small but growing list of South African firms which have decided to provide anti-Aids drugs to staff, regardless of their rank.

Mining giant Anglo American, which estimated that almost one quarter of its 90,000-strong southern African workforce was HIV positive, last month revealed it was to make treatment available to all infected employees.

Old Mutual staff underwent voluntary and anonymous tests for HIV. The 600 thought to be infected represent about 5% of the firm's workforce.

Mr Sparks hoped his company's move would contribute to a national debate over the provision of anti-Aids drugs in South Africa, where an estimated 4.7 million people - one in nine of the population - is believed to be infected with HIV.

The South African government is testing the drug nevirapine in the hope of preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus, but has refused to offer drugs to Aids sufferers.

Policy bar

Old Mutual said that, despite Tuesday's announcement, it would not be revising its bar on providing insurance for people living with HIV/Aids.

Banks and insurers have been criticised by Aids campaigners for unfairly blocking access by sufferers to financial services.

"We believe that insurance companies have contributed to the genocide of people who died prematurely of HIV/Aids related illnesses in South Africa," the National Association of People living with HIV/Aids (Napwa) said.

Old Mutual deputy chief executive Peter Moyo said the firm could not afford to underwrite such cover.


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