HIV/AIDS awareness, education and testing has gained further impetus in Nelson Mandela Bay with the launch of the far-reaching 2011 Wellness Cluster programme, an initiative launched in 2009 by the Ford Engine Plant, the Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC) and Aids Prevention and Health Promotion Workplace Programmes in Southern Africa (AWiSA).
The Ford-AIDC-AWiSA Wellness Cluster is aimed at assisting automotive supplier companies in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic by implementing comprehensive Wellness Workplace Programmes with a special focus on HIV and AIDS – and in doing so, improving their sustainability and global competitiveness.
Each year, the cluster sets out to partner with three supplier companies, assisting them in training managers, co-ordinators and peer educators who, in turn, drive the programme and the crucial HIV/AIDS counselling and testing (HCT), while also addressing a wide range of employee and community health and wellness issues.
The project has achieved phenomenal success in establishing and maintaining far-reaching wellness initiatives, supported by the voluntary HIV/AIDS testing of more than 1 000 employees each year. Thus, to date, well over 2 000 employees have completed the voluntary counselling and testing, with thousands more in the surrounding community benefiting directly and indirectly from the project.
The cluster already includes 10 existing suppliers, with the announcement of the 2011 project seeing local companies SA Canopy, Halberg Guss in Korsten and Halberg Guss Aluminium in Struandale signing up for the programme.
The Ford Engine Plant plays a leading overseeing role in the Wellness Cluster, sharing its integrated Wellness Programme knowledge and successes, and assisting the supplier companies in a ‘big brother’ role.
As the facilitator, the AIDC assesses each company’s existing levels of HIV/AIDS knowledge, and the status and success of any current or previous HCT and wellness projects. Based on their individual requirements, specific planning and training is done, including the selection of peer educators and co-ordinators that are trained to actively provide formal and informal awareness of the wellness initiatives in their plants.
Thereafter, the project is implemented with a unique operational plan developed in conjunction with Ford, the AIDC and the peer educators, including the organisation of various wellness activities, health risk assessments and HCT drives
Monitoring and evaluation systems are put in place in order to continually assess the progress, and ensure its success and long-term sustainability. A research element is also included in the project, focussing on health in the South African automotive sector. This is done by the AIDC and AWiSA, in conjunction with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University.
Additionally, the companies, their peer educators and employees participate in HIV/AIDS projects in the surrounding communities. As a result, numerous schools, AIDS havens, orphanages and individual families throughout Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage have benefited from this community outreach through the donation of funds, food and supplies, as well as manpower and skills.
Networking opportunities between the new and existing cluster members are also provided, creating a valuable supporting role for each of the companies’ teams of co-ordinators and peer educators.
Indeed, at the end of February this year, the various wellness teams, including those from the 2009 and 2010 projects, comprising Lumotech, Formex Engineering, Borbet South Africa, Dana-Spicer and Federal Mogul, participated in a peer educator team-building event at a resort on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth.
The activities were centred on the theme of ‘trust’, affording the approximately 50 peer educators the opportunity to get to know each better in a fun yet informative and empowering environment, and reinforcing the confidence that is placed in them by the Wellness Cluster, and the employees at their respective companies.
Awards were also handed out to the peer educators in each company that excelled in quality and engagement, with the winners selected by their very own team members and co-ordinators.
“The Wellness Cluster plays a vital role in the success and sustainability of the automotive industry in Nelson Mandela Bay,” explains Kurt Bothman, the Human Resources manager at the Ford Struandale Engine Plant.
“We have seen how the investment in the health and wellness of our employees has made the Ford Engine Plant more efficient and globally competitive, and our employees healthier, more motivated and more productive.
“The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the single greatest threat to the viability and success of the automotive sector in the Eastern Cape, and it’s essential that we tackle this issue with a strategic, carefully planned, well executed and measurable programme that can turn the tide, and secure a prosperous future for our companies and the wider community.”