By Richard Chirombo
Unexplained deaths. Increased cases of illness. High absenteeism rates.
It did not take the Malawi Business Coalition against HIV/AIDS (MBCA)
long to identify the suspect.
“We knew it was HIV and AIDS, one of the biggest challenges facing the
business community in this century,” says Veronica Chikafa, MBCA’s
To many, it was felt that it would be difficult for the business
community to catch up with the grown-up strain of HIV, a strain that,
at 24 years of age, was no longer a baby by youth. That was in 2005,
the birth-year for MBCA, long after HIV and AIDS visited the earth and
decided to stay put in 1981.
“But, I would say, so far so good. We are happy with the response we
have received from the business community. Cases of stigma and
discrimination have drastically reduced.
“The most encouraging thing is that all our members- 90 in total- have
Workplace HIV and AIDS policies. We seem to be making tremendous
progress in our efforts,” says Chikafa.
Chikafa says the story of MBCA has come out of a marriage of sorts,
not human marriage but that of effective policies and strategies: that
is, the unique blend of profit-maximization goals and respect for
human dignity in the private sector.
But things have not always been like this. For ages, the adage ‘the
customer always wins’ has been part of the common sense in business.
However, it was always the ‘customer’ who was the ‘winner’; but never
the employee who made such customers smile. And, at the height of
this belief, the-common-sense-of-business, HIV and AIDS came.
The results were disastrous as confusion, other than common sense,
prevailed. No wonder, it took 24 years for the business community to
‘wake’ up and realize that something was to be done.
It was realized that, “not only clients were affected; workers, too,
were not spared from the negative impact of HIV and AIDS”, thereby
disrupting national development affairs.
“That is how we, MBCA, came to be. As the coordinator of the business
community’s response to HIV and AIDS, we have managed to convince our
members to develop and implement HIV and AIDS policies and programmes.
“These are not just ordinary programmes; these are programmes that
ensure sustenance of businesses and lives of employees and their
families in Malawi,” adds Chikafa.
She says, in the attempt to get to Ground-Zero on new HIV infections,
AIDS related deaths, and discrimination, MBCA is promoting the
integration of moral standing, responsiveness, concern, deep
seriousness, condour and inclusiveness in company policies and
Through this, MBCA hopes, companies may begin to place equal valuation
upon business returns as well as employees’ wellness thereby
contributing towards the country’s socio-economic development.
It is so easy to understand why MBCA is doing this. It is upon the
realization that the essence of success in business lies in faith in
the wisdom of the people who deliver the goods (workforce).
Businesses employ people because they have confidence in their
professional competence and judgment- especially their ability to
exercise that judgment from a position where they would determine the
value of things in the context of their own (individual) best
interests, and the company’s interests.
“The question is: Do people lose value simply because they are HIV
positive? No. Unfortunately, we could still have some cases of
discrimination because, while some people can say there is none, the
right people to say whether there is discrimination or not are those
who are living positively with HIV,” says Chikafa.
Chikafa offers some solutions to current challenges, some of which,
she says, are being pursued.
“We need to strengthen the capacity of private sector players to
effectively mainstream HIV and AIDS in the workplace,” she says.
This task started a long time ago, when HIV and AIDS mainstreaming was
the in-thing between 2005 and 2010. Everyone was talking about HIV and
AIDS mainstreaming then, with ‘HIV and AIDS Mainstreaming’ as the
‘father’, and peer education training, steering committees’ training,
leadership training and policy development training as the sons.
Adds Chikafa: “We also need the strengthen the capacity of private
sector health workers to provide high quality prevention, treatment,
care and support services.”
Achieving this has not been difficult for MBCA, which was entrusted
with the responsibility of coordinating government’s scale-up
programme for ARVs therapy with the aim of reducing morbidity and
mortality arising from HIV and AIDS infections among adults and
Through this, it has been possible to manage Sexually Transmitted
Infections, prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, offer HIV
testing and counseling, and conduct ART training among private sector
“We have also carried out programmes on the promotion of HIV and AIDS
information and behaviour change interventions, and ensuring the
maintenance of high standards in programming and sharing of best
practices in the private sector,” she says.
All these efforts are, put simply, a clearing-out campaign; the real
aim has been to take private sector players to ground zero, in terms
of stigma, deaths, and infections.
What can we say, in the end: Is the path to Ground-Zero paved or thorny?
“I would say, with all these efforts, that we are getting there. It
will not be difficult to get there, so long as there is commitment on
part of all of us. Already, we have companies that have robust
programmers, some of these- including The Privatization Commission,
Malawi Telecommunications Limited- will be having indoor activities
this December 1,” says Chikafa.
All these efforts have been like small paths; paths that lead nowhere
but to Ground-Zero.