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World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, commemorated annually on March 24, is a timely reminder for businesses of the nearly 400 000 South Africans living with TB, says Andre Jacobs.
Jacobs is business unit head of health care at Aon Hewitt South Africa.
He says TB is the most frequently occurring notifiable disease in SA and can severely affect the profitability of a business.
According to the World Economic Forum, which commissioned a study in 130 countries to review the opinions of 11 000 business leaders, one-third of business leaders expected TB negatively to affect their businesses in the next five years.
In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly two-thirds of business leaders indicated that TB would severely affect their businesses.
Jacobs notes that the South African incidence rate in a population of 100 000 increased from 229 in 1990 to a staggering 720 in 2006.
He explains that as 75 percent of South Africans living with TB are aged between 15 and 54, the productive labour force is most affected by the disease.
“TB negatively affects businesses by increasing the absenteeism rate by a startling amount, reducing labour productivity, increasing recruitment and replacement costs and weakening the pool of human capital available to businesses,” he says
Jacobs believes that TB robs companies of valuable employees, and if left untreated the disease will easily spread and affect other employees, increasing absenteeism and severely affecting the profitability of the company.
He adds that if left untreated, one TB patient can infect 10 to 15 other people in a year.
“Businesses can benefit economically by assessing the risk of TB in their communities, protecting their employees from it, and ensuring that when infected, employees receive prompt quality care.
“A programme that addresses local and societal issues, whereby the employer works along with their employees, health-care providers, government, organised labour and civil society, has a great chance of success.”
TB is a prescribed minimum benefit (PMB) in terms of the Medical Schemes Act, which means medical schemes are compelled to fund its diagnoses, care and treatment at no cost to the member of the medical scheme or the employer.
“However, members and employers must know that medical schemes are allowed to restrict the treatment and save money, and are also allowed to fund treatment in full only if their specific providers are used.
“This said, if the treatment is ineffective, the medical scheme is compelled to provide alternative treatment at no additional cost to the member.”
Jacobs says the Global Health Initiative suggests that business adopts key principles in response to TB.
l Recognition that TB is a workplace disease
l Creating awareness around TB.
l Establishing non-discrimination policies to protect people diagnosed with TB.
l Respecting the individual’s confidentiality.
l Working with the national TB control programme.
l Monitoring programme results.
l Reporting on the results and making management responsible for the outcomes of the programme in the workforce.
l Developing a trusted and sustainable network of TB programme partners.
l Linking TB programmes to HIV programmes.
l Visit www.aonhewitt.com.