SOUTH AFRICA: Volvo dealer, Babcock, raises funds to fight HIV/AIDS

Dianne Borello of Volvo Construction Equipment’s South African dealer Babcock receives the Swedish Workplace HIV and AIDS Program Achievement Award for Babcock’s HIV/AIDS testing and education program

Volvo Construction Equipment’s dealer in South Africa has been praised for its innovative thinking and commitment to employees after winning an award for helping launch an HIV/AIDS testing and education program in the workplace.

Babcock, Volvo Construction Equipment’s South African dealer, topped the category for best progress in the 2010 Achievement Awards of the Swedish Workplace HIV and AIDS Program (SWHAP), an organization helping companies with Swedish connections to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce the effects of the pandemic.

“If it wasn’t for Volvo Construction Equipment, none of this good work would have happened,” says Dianne Borello, Babcock’s health and safety trainer and the driving force behind the Babcock Wellness Program. “They were why SWHAP approached us and offered to subsidize the project in August 2009.”

Dianne is shown with the colleagues who assisted with the HIV/AIDS program.

Having taken a university course in HIV/AIDS Cure & Counseling, Dianne was the obvious person to run the program. Understanding that within South African society there is a great reluctance to talk openly about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, Dianne knew Babcock had to look at alternative ways of encouraging employees to discuss the issues and – more crucially – to take an HIV/AIDS test.

The answer was to bring in a theater 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 its outlets across the country – even the most remote sites with just three or four staff.

The show features two characters with HIV/AIDS. 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 a simple but very powerful message,” Dianne says. “The production had an electrifying impact on the audiences.”

After the performance, the employees were invited to take a free mouth-swab test at the mobile clinic that was brought in for the day. Counselors were on hand to deliver results within 15 minutes and immediately begin a support program for those who tested positive.

“When we launched, we had no idea what the take-up would be,” she adds. “But we 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 being given support. There are now plans to roll out the program to all Babcock outlets in Africa.

“Without the support of Babcock management and all the employees, this program would never have taken off,” says Dianne. “Their attitude was: ‘Let’s go for 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 literally a matter of life and death for some people.”

At the international awards ceremony in Sweden, SWHAP said it had been ‘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 Dianne. “We had all worked so hard. I have never felt so proud. 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.”