5 June 2008
The Global Health Initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly have launched a new toolkit that aims to boost the involvement of South African companies in tackling tuberculosis (TB) in the country.
The announcement, made at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town this week, comes as South Africa faces an emerging threat of TB/HIV co-infections and fatal drug-resistant strains of the disease.
In a statement on Tuesday, the WEF said the toolkit was developed in collaboration with the Lilly MDR-TB partnership, together with inputs from national and international partners, including private sector representatives.
The toolkit provides concrete guidelines to help South African companies rapidly increase their TB control programmes by adopting a joint approach to tackling both TB and HIV.
With some 70% of TB patients in South Africa also infected with HIV, the importance of an integrated approach to care is clear, and the South African government has recognised the importance of engaging the private sector to achieve its TB case detection and treatment targets.
South African companies have the opportunity to catalyse effective public-private partnerships to facilitate successful patient and programme management, lessening the economic impact of TB, which currently leads to a decline in worker productivity estimated at US$13-billion (R100.7-billion) annually.
“Businesses have a fundamental responsibility towards both their employees and the wider community, and for preservation of their long-term interests by ensuring the national development of human capital to drive economic growth,” said Eli Lilly Corporate Affairs and Communications vice president Alex Azar. “Tuberculosis has the capacity to undermine all of this.”
Shattering the cycle
According to the WEF, the TB toolkit aims to shatter the cycle of transmission that so often defines the gravity of TB. By intercepting the progression of the disease and its lethal synergy with HIV/Aids, businesses can better leverage their existing health infrastructures and management tools and resources to greater effect.
Combined with the technical expertise and knowledge available under South Africa’s national TB programme and the national Aids control programme, companies can provide a critical mass of resources for successful TB control.
“It’s a disturbing paradox to think that people should die from a curable disease like tuberculosis,” said Dr Shaloo Puri, head of the India Business Alliance, and India and tuberculosis adviser at the Global Health Initiative of the World Economic Forum. “The sooner South African businesses start awakening to the extent of the problem, the sooner they can understand the associated risks in the workforce and to their business.”
On a practical level, the toolkit will help companies increase opportunities and activities in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB/HIV co-infections in the workplace.
These measures will in turn help alleviate the burden and costs associated with absenteeism, disrupted workflow and reduced productivity.
By engaging proactively with the community, which forms a key component of the overall business environment, businesses can offset the marginal cost of partnering with local stakeholders with the huge benefits they will reap through greater efficiency in the workplace and the good will in the community.
Although South Africa represents only 0.7% of the world’s population, it has 28% of the global number of HIV-positive TB cases.
“South African business leaders must start to recognize the crucial role they can play in TB care and the importance of the workplace setting as a win-win setting for TB control,” the WEF says.
“Despite being preventable, treatable and curable, TB continues to devastate the continent. Unless individuals and organizations unite in advocacy and action, everyone stands to lose.”
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