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     The Challenge Posed by HIV/ AIDS to Singapore Businesses

Continued from FrontPage of Article

Launch of RESPECT, a workplace HIV/AIDS education programme

20 Apr 2006

By Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts and Health

Venue: Meritus Mandarin Hotel


Dr Wang Kai Yuen, Chairman, AIDS Business Alliance,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen

The Challenge Posed by HIV/ AIDS at the Macroeconomic and Microeconomic Levels

HIV/AIDS is a potentially serious threat to economies, businesses and communities.

At the macroeconomic level, UNAIDS estimated a 2.6% drop in annual GDP when prevalence rates pass 20%. The prevalence rate in Singapore is about 0.1%-0.2 %.

A major reason for the predicted negative impact of HIV/AIDS at the macroeconomic level is the impact of the disease on the workforce. According to the International Labour Organisation, nine out of every ten infected adult will fall within the economically active age band of between 15 to 49 years old.

The Challenge Posed by HIV/ AIDS to Singapore Businesses

In recognition of the threat of HIV/AIDS to businesses, the World Economic Forum commissioned the Global Review of the Business Response to HIV/AIDS as part of its 2003/2004 Global Competitiveness Report. This survey measured the business response to combating AIDS.

A total of 7,789 companies across 103 countries, including Singapore, were asked about their concerns over and response to the threat of HIV/AIDS. One hundred and twenty firms from Singapore participated in the survey. Of these Singapore firms,

  • 3 out of 4 companies (73%) estimated that only less than 1% of their employees are HIV positive; this is a reasonable estimate.

  • 3 out of 4 companies (76%) did not expect HIV/AIDS to have a serious impact on their company both now and in the future. This will be true only if businesses put in place preventive measures. Given the rising trend of HIV infections in Singapore, businesses in Singapore need to address the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in their companies. 

In Singapore, the number of HIV-positive people has climbed steadily from the first case detected here in 1985 to 2,641 by December 2005. Three out of four (74.77%) who are infected are actively employed.

The increasing numbers are a worrying trend because they are affecting our people during their productive years. In 2005, out of the 255 new cases reported, a great majority (87%) comprised the age group of 20 - 59 years old, with those aged 20 - 49 years accounting for as much as 70% of all new cases. In view of this, government, businesses and unions need to work together, and act decisively to stop this alarming trend.

One action we can take is to bring to the workplace an AIDS education programme that will educate workers on AIDS prevention and which will fight discrimination against HIV positive workers at the workplace. Through HIV/AIDS education programmes, employees can increase their abilities and skills to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and develop more positive attitude towards people living with AIDS.

It is my pleasure therefore to launch such an educational programme called -���������RESPECT��������� - this afternoon.

RESPECT is an acronym that stands for Rallying Employers to Support the Prevention, Education and Control of STI/HIV/AIDS through the HIV/AIDS workplace education programme. This education programme is specially developed by the Health Promotion Board for local companies.

The word "RESPECT" is chosen because this educational programme is  about:

  • Respecting the seriousness of HIV/AIDS as I outlined earlier;

  • Respecting oneself and knowing that one has the right to say "no" to unprotected casual sex;

  • Respecting one's sexual partner and not jeopardising his/her health and well-being; and

  • Respecting employees' right to correct information and education on STI/HIV/AIDS.

Implementing HIV/AIDS Education Programme in Singapore Businesses

In Singapore, 43% of the private companies already have a systematic infrastructure in place to carry out a comprehensive workplace health promotion programme. If these companies, and the rest of the private companies that have yet to start a comprehensive workplace health promotion programme, are to incorporate HIV/AIDS education into their total human resource management and development programmes, we can reach out to the private sector workforce.

Government ministries and agencies should also set the example by incorporating HIV/AIDS education as part of their existing workplace health promotion programmes. Early this year, my Ministry and the Health Promotion Board implemented a peer led HIV/AIDS education programme for all our staff. This programme is adapted from the very successful "Bridges of Hope" programme by the Standard Chartered Bank.

The AIDS Business Alliance

Last year in November, a group of businesses came together to form the AIDS Business Alliance. It is chaired by Dr Wang Kai Yuen, Managing Director of Xerox Singapore Software Centre. The Alliance includes representatives from the private sector - Apex-Pal International, the American Chamber of Commerce, Keppel Shipyard, Boncafe, Standard Chartered Bank, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Four Seasons Hotel, and MediaCorp. It also includes representation from NTUC, Singapore National Employers' Federation, SAF and the Communicable Disease Centre. The Alliance is committed to promoting HIV education in the workplace. To walk the talk, some of the members like Xerox Singapore Software Centre and Apex-Pal International have implemented HIV education for ALL their staff. At Standard Chartered Bank and Merck Sharp & Dohme, HIV education is a compulsory component of staff training. These companies are setting an exemplary example for the business community to follow.

I am heartened to see so many business leaders here today. I understand that there are about 255 participants from 177 companies. By attending today's launch, you have expressed your interest in joining the business community to do something about the HIV/AIDS situation.
Concluding Remarks

I am optimistic that the RESPECT programme will act as a catalyst for businesses to be involved in HIV prevention and education programmes. Today's launch will give participants a sneak preview of the various components in the programme.

Finally, I would like to thank members of the AIDS Business Alliance for co-organising and supporting the programme.

Thank you.

Source: Press Release 20 Apr 2006