De Beers honored for its HIV/AIDS testing program

De Beers was honored Wednesday for its workplace response to HIV/AIDS counseling and testing by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS at its Annual Awards for Business Excellence Gala in Washington, D.C.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador and actress Angelina Jolie, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton spoke at the event, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Led by president and CEO Richard Holbrooke and executive director Trevor Neilson, GBC is the pre-eminent organization harnessing the power of the international business community in responding to the challenges of the epidemic. Instituted in 1998, GBC’s Awards for Business Excellence identify and honor private-industry HIV/AIDS programs that have far-reaching effects on the workplace and the community. At the 2004 GBC Awards for Business Excellence Gala,

De Beers was commended for its effort to manage the affliction caused by the HIV/AIDS epidemic through various workplace programs, which it does in partnership with the South African National Union of Mineworkers. This year, GBC will recognize six companies for spearheading efforts to make an impact on the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

“As an active member of the organization, De Beers is honored to be recognized for our efforts in fighting the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half of the world’s people infected with the virus live,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, Managing Director of De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. “With the De Beers Group’s most important diamond producing companies currently based in southern Africa, we recognize the need for a progressive and innovative approach to meet the threat posed by the epidemic to our business, our employees, their families and the communities in which we operate.”

The HIV testing program, for which De Beers is being honored by the GBC, is an integral component of a comprehensive workplace response. Voluntary counseling and Testing (VCT) services are made available in southern Africa to all De Beers employees, their spouses, contractors, and, where possible, are often extended to community members as well, the company said.

De Beers also has a peer educator program which uses employees who volunteer their skills to engage their colleagues and encourage testing through conveying the benefits of knowing one’s status and de-stigmatizing the disease.

In 2004, the focus on VCT within De Beers has resulted in a drastic rise in testing of employees and spouses, the company said. In some campaigns, as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of the permanent workforce was tested. This has also seen a marked increase in the registration on the company’s treatment program.