Babcock (South Africa) topped the category for best progress in the 2010 Achievement Awards of the Swedish Workplace HIV and AIDS Program (SWHAP), an organization supporting companies to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce the effects of the pandemic at Swedish-related businesses around the world.
“If it wasn’t for Volvo Construction Equipment, none of this good work would have happened,” says Dianne Borello, the driving force behind the Babcock Wellness Program. “Our connection with Volvo was the key – they were the very reason why SWHAP approached us and offered to subsidize the project in August 2009.”
Borello was Babcock’s SHERQ Trainer at the time, and having sat a university course in HIV/Aids Cure & Counseling, she was the obvious person to run the program. Her knowledge of the subject and her imaginative approach to the challenge yielded rapid and remarkable results.
Understanding that within South African society there was a great reluctance to talk openly about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, Borello knew Babcock had to look at alternative ways of encouraging Babcock employees to discuss the issues and, crucially, to take an HIV/Aids test.
The answer was to bring in a theatre production company to dramatize the HIV/Aids issues in a series of live performances played to the 420 employees of Babcock’s two divisions with Volvo connections (Construction Equipment and Penta) at every one of their outlets across the country, even the most remote sites ones with just three or four staff. After the performance, the employees were invited to take a free mouth-swab test at the mobile clinic brought in for the day. Counselors from Reality Training Concepts (Babcock’s sub contractor) were on hand to deliver the results within 15 minutes and immediately launch their support program for those who tested positive.
“The show features two characters with HIV/Aids: one who chooses to seek treatment and one who doesn’t,” explains Borello. “The first gets his medication, returns to work, gets promoted and leads a happy, ordinary life. The other character gets sicker and sicker and by the time he finally goes for a test it’s too late.
“It’s simple but very powerful message. There’s a very moving line in which the dying character says: ‘But who’s going to look after my twin children now?’ You could see the effect that had on the faces of the people watching. Each occasion, as you can imagine, was very tense and dramatic as the employees waited to be called in to see one of the counselors to be receive their results. You could see everyone thinking ‘What about that time when… ?’
The production had an electrifying impact on the audiences.
“When we launched, we had no idea what the take-up would be,” adds Borello. “But we literally had people queuing in the building to be tested. It took five months to visit every site but when we added up the figures at the end we were amazed and delighted to discover that 94% of those who saw the show had gone straight for the free testing.”
Five percent tested positive and are now being given support. Borello’s brainwave coupled with the support from all at Babcock has proved to be a stunning success and there are now plans to roll out the program to all Babcock outlets in Africa, but she is quick to deflect, or at least share the plaudits.
Decisive and Rapid
“Other companies involved with SWHAP start with meetings and training sessions that drags the process out for months and even years,” says Borello, who is currently off work and battling with illness herself after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. “We decided to speed the process up and jump straight in.”
“Without the support of Babcock management, and the support of all the employees this program would never have got off the ground. Their attitude was: ‘Let’s go for it!’ They gave us the money and left us to get on with it. We were up and running within two and a half weeks. As a result we made a very quick impact. I saw it as a race against time, it was a matter of life and death for some people. We attacked the problem and by the time we had launched the support program other companies were still in their initial planning phases.”
Babcock created a first in the history of SWHAP when they bought the rights for the sub contractors training and education program which means they have been able to extend their reach to people who came into contact with Babcock employees in the course of their work.
“Babcock is busy launching the peer education phase whereby a peer counselor will go into a Babcock’s departments and different sites and talk not just about HIV/Aids but other sexually transmitted and wider health issues too,” says Borello. “The idea is that the employees will go home and tell their families and friends what they’ve learned.”
At an international awards ceremony in Sweden, SWHAP said it had been highly ‘impressed by the speed in which Babcock has achieved its results making it a good example for other workplaces both within and outside the Babcock group.’
“There are no words to describe my feelings when I heard we won the award,” says Borello. “We had all worked so hard. I have never felt so proud. It was like watching your child graduate from university. The whole experience was a reward in itself. It has totally changed my life, opening up my eyes to so much. And of course, if it hadn’t been for the Volvo link, it would never have happened.”
Text: Niall Edworthy
Dianne Borello receives her award