Midrand/Rosslyn – For the past 10 years, BMW South Africa has promoted and encouraged its employees to know their HIV and health status.  The Bavarian automaker did this by initiating a major pro-active campaign against HIV/AIDS at the end of 2000 with the launch of its HIV/AIDS policy.

The purpose of the campaign was to reduce the impact of the disease on employees, their families and the company by providing programmes aimed at preventing new infections, counselling services, testing, care and support.  A multi-disciplinary team with participation from Human Resources, Union Representatives, Medical Practitioners and Management was appointed to drive the process under the Chairmanship of a senior Member of the Board.

However, over the years BMW South Africa has come to see the effects of HIV are not limited to the boundaries of the workplace and, in anticipation of the National HCT Campaign and World AIDS Day 2009, the company actively reached beyond the workforce to families and communities by creating the BMW Caring Together programme in November 2009.

The BMW Caring Together Programme offers employees, as well as their families, their neighbours and community members, the opportunity to establish their HIV status, and to discover their complete health risk profile in a first for the South African automotive industry.  Just over one year later, more than 5200 individuals have participated in the programme, including 90% of the company’s Associates and 42% of the family members on the BMW Medical Aid.  Even more significantly, BMW South Africa’s community testing events have resulted in 2240 members of the public in Soshanguve, Garankuwa and Rosslyn knowing their HIV status and health profile.

“We are extremely proud of the success of the programme thus far.  The company has a resolute commitment to develop a culture of trust among employees and ensure that there is not only an understanding of the severity of the epidemic but a strategy to fight the spread of HIV,” says Bodo Donauer, Managing Director at BMW South Africa.  “More significantly, the fact that we have been able to make meaningful inroads into the communities surrounding our facilities means that we have taken the fight against HIV/AIDS onto a new playing field.”

HIV/AIDS poses a real threat to South African communities, workplaces and the market place in general.  The loss of employees, absenteeism and lower productivity are some of the challenges facing businesses, creating the need for a strong and committed reaction.

While HIV/AIDS testing is one of major concerns addressed by the BMW Caring Together programme, the initiative also provides a holistic look at a participant’s overall health profile.  The testing days are aimed at identifying a number of health concerns including chronic diseases such as cancer, which in many instances is curable if caught early.  Diabetes, anaemia and tuberculosis (TB) are just a few of the other diseases that have been identified as part of the campaign.  Counsellors and medical practitioners are on hand to assist individuals with information on how to proceed and ensure they take the right steps towards maintaining their health.

“Having a healthy workforce ensures greater productivity.  We encourage all of our employees to strive towards a healthy well-balanced lifestyle,” adds Dr Natalie Mayet, the company’s General Manager: Occupational Health and Protection Services.  “More importantly, a healthy community which knows its own health status is a community which can contribute meaningfully to the development of society and the economy at large.”

Testing stations were set up at both the Midrand and Rosslyn offices as well as the Rosslyn Automotive Supplier Park with a further ten testing sites erected in the surrounding communities which were selected based on where the majority of BMW associates live.  In addition, testing took place on weekdays and

weekends on various dates throughout the year allowing the maximum number of people the opportunity to participate.  Home based testing was also provided.

This unique project was jointly funded by BMW South Africa and Medscheme Health Risk Solutions.  All vaccines utilised during the project were generously donated by the Department of Health.  Right to Care, a Non-Governmental Organisation, was the service provider that conducted the testing and they worked closely with the BMW Occupational Health, Corporate Social Responsibility and Communications teams as well as a host of internal volunteers from different divisions.

“We would like to thank the thousands of employees and community members who participated in this initiative and took responsibility – a call made by the Minister of Health.  Many of these individuals stood in long lines to be tested – and demonstrated a real commitment to knowing their health status.  After all, once you know your status, you know what to do next,” concludes Mr Donauer.