DOING SOME DIGGING – The role of employers in a healthy workforce

In what is hailed as a "pioneering" effort, DEBSWANA DIAMOND CO. has become the first mining company to offer free ...
In what is hailed as a "pioneering" effort, DEBSWANA DIAMOND CO. has become the first mining company to offer free anti-retroviral treatment to HIV-positive employees as part of a comprehensive disease-management program. The policy includes treatment for an employee's married spouse and children under the age of 21.

Debswana's announcement comes during the XVI International AIDS Conference, held Aug. 13-18 in Toronto. The meeting drew speakers such as Bill and Melissa Gates, Bill Clinton and Canada's Stephen Lewis (the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa) as well as an estimated 20,000 delegates from around the world.

In Botswana, where the HIV/AIDS infection rate is estimated to be 37.3%, efforts to maintain employee health are of paramount importance. Debswana said in its press release that its 700 employees registered for treatment show a compliance rate of above 90% because of the close management and support given them. The company will benefit from a decline in the trends of deaths from AIDS-related conditions, fewer ill health retirements, and less absenteeism.

Canadian mine operators might be tempted to shrug off the rate of HIV/AIDS infection among their employees. This country has an infection rate of only 0.3%, although it is higher among aboriginals. That is still a low rate of infection, and it is tempting to think that provincial health plans will take care of treatment. The cost of the drugs is still borne by the patient.

I will admit that the HIV/AIDS problem is less pressing in Canada than in Africa. This week the world learned there are more obese people than undernourished people on the planet. Canadian employers could still take a leaf out of Debswana's book and address this problem: an overweight and unfit workforce. They might provide (at their expense) counselling, monitored programs, facilities and medical remedies for employees, their spouses and children. And don't forget smoking cessation, too.

A healthier workforce benefits the employer in many ways. An underground miner who can climb the manway in an emergency. An executive who is willing to use the stairs when the elevator is out of commission. An employee who comes to work each day free of the back pain that afflicts so many middle-aged workers. In the end, fewer medical claims mean less cost to the employer. Take the savings and put them back into preventive health care.

(Debswana is a joint venture of DE BEERS GROUP and the GOVERNMENT OF BOTSWANA. The company has a website at, but it is currently being upgraded.)


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