Big role players in the regions citrus industry are leading the way with employee wellness, in particular, HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) in the sector.
Agricultural workers health and wellness has long been a contentious issue in South Africa and was put into focus at the 3rd bi-annual Round Table session for the Agricultural Wellness Management Programme facilitated by the Automotive Industry Development Centre Eastern Cape (AIDC EC), and held at the Sundays River Citrus Company (SRCC) today.
The Agricultural Wellness Management Programme is driven by the AIDC EC supported by the German International Development Agency (GIZ) with the participation of big role players in the South African citrus industry.
The round table serves as a platform for participants to share lessons learnt, challenges and future plans as well as to receive information on developments in wellness within the Sunday’s River Valley and beyond.
“The Agricultural Wellness programme started as a pilot project in 2012 and is now a fully-fledged Wellness Programme which has been built on support from the participating farms, NGO’s in the area, The Department of Social Development and The Department of Health. This programme can be used as a bench mark to extend to other sectors at low or no cost,” said Arnelle Heynes, AIDC EC Workplace Programme Manager, “In attendance were Wellness Coordinators and Management from the 18 farms involved, who shared their expertise and experience to produce a collaborative best practice for implementing and developing wellness management programmes within the agricultural environment.”
Zeodor Arends, from the Eastern Cape AIDS Council spoke of the support the Council can give to the sector to provide HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) in the Workplace through the HCT Campaign within the Business Sector.
“HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) is the leading prevention strategy for HIV AIDS. The good news is that we (The Eastern Cape AIDS Council) are seeing a decline in new infections, the bad news however is that we are not meeting our yearly testing targets nationally,” said Arends.
To meet the Eastern Cape testing target of 1.3 million in 2015, 3250 tests need to be conducted weekly. Currently the Department of Health is not coping in facilitating the necessary tests and so there is a need for the business and private sector to support this initiative.
Arends appealed to the participating farms and pack houses at the round table to commit to testing at least 90% of their workforce in 2015.
This multi-faceted initiative provides preventative education to, 2700 workers at the 18 partner farms, through Industrial Theatre, Peer Education and Wellness Drives where workers are offered a Health Risk Assessment including HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT), Glucose and Hypertension tests, BMI and TB screening as part of a comprehensive and dynamic programme focusing on overall wellbeing.
Also speaking at the event was Mfundo Ngcelwane, from the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) who explained how DRDAR can assist with food security projects through the DRDAR’s Siyazondla project which assists in providing seeds, tools and training for subsistence farming initiatives. Food security and nutrition are sited as major role players in patient’s recovery and continued health.
The Wellness Management Programme has not only improved the health of workers but is also reducing the financial burden on farms and processing plants caused by loss of productivity, loss of qualified staff and absenteeism.
“Providing workers and managers, in the Agricultural sector, with the basic facts surrounding HIV AIDS and TB, in particular the prevention and transmission, as well as substance abuse, has empowered the participating farms to tackle issues of long term absenteeism and loss of productivity head on,” says Heynes “The wellness management programme has also led to a notable decline in stigma attached to infection and HIV status in the agricultural communities.”
The AIDC EC has conducted studies into stigma related to HIV AIDS and findings indicated a need for the development of tailored HIV related stigma interventions in rural workplaces. As a result the Wellness Management Programme will be implementing targeted Educational Drives to combat the impact that stigma has on the continued prevalence of HIV AIDS in the agricultural sector of the region.
The continued support of the wellness management programme, within the region’s citrus sector, demonstrates the commitment of the local citrus sector to the wellness of its work force.
The AIDC EC, SRCC, Sun Citrus Packers/ Sun Orange Farms as well as Sikhula Sonke and Luthando Farm have since won several awards for their outstanding approach to wellness.
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