I recently had the opportunity and privilege to visit our company affiliate in East London, South Africa. The reason for my trip was to produce a video (below), in recognition of World Aids Day occurring today.
Unfortunately, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, like much of the continent, has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS. The health center, at the East London plant, provides support and education for those affected by the disease. Those include the many employees who are either infected with HIV, caring for stricken family members, or who tragically have lost loved ones to the disease.
Based in part on the learnings from East London, Johnson &Johnson has formulated an HIV/AIDS Global Workplace Policy, which states that we seek “to save lives, improve lives and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by being a socially responsible participant in the global response to HIV/AIDS.” A noble cause, and what was especially moving to me was the willingness of employees (mostly shot in silhouette, to protect their privacy), to share wrenching stories about their struggles with the disease.
One of the goals of the health center is to help people understand that having HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence, and that it’s possible to “live positively well, being positive,” as articulated by Penny Muller, RN, the health and wellness coordinator at the East London facility. The challenge was to convince people whose reaction to testing positive was often “I want to kill myself.”
There is still a lot of work to do, in terms of education, treatment and counseling, but the health center provides a safe haven for employees, most of whom have suffered through the brutally oppressive period of Apartheid. Hopefully, going forward, the black population of South Africa will have access to more education, opportunities and support than they have had in the past. They will need these resources to help them cope with the challenges of HIV/AIDS in their country, as well as with the often bitter aftermath of the Apartheid era. But as “Sister” Penny so eloquently put it, “One person will help another, will help another…one drop of rain starts a waterfall.”