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AIDS crisis threatens South Africa's World Cup


HIV AND AIDS are jeopardising South Africa's preparations for the 2010 World Cup and threatening to undermine South Africa's £21bn infrastructure spending programme, consultants warned this week.

High rates of infection, especially among the country's student population, are threatening to kill off a generation of engineering graduates as the country grapples with a huge infrastructure programme.

'HIV is a massive issue for us. Long term we are trying to recruit more engineers and technicians locally, but this means recruiting more people in from universities where rates of infection are particularly high, ' said one consultant.

'It is a real problem, ' said a senior consultant from one of South Africa's top rms. 'We know we need to address this but we are not sure how to.' South Africa has one of the largest populations of people living with HIV in the world.

Of the 39.5M people identied by charity UNAIDS as being infected with the virus in 2006, 5.5M live in South Africa, whose population is 47M. Another 2M South Africans are believed to be unaware they have it.

The award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, along with post-apartheid economic recovery following the lifting of trade sanctions have catalysed a boom in the country's infrastructure development.

Projects worth £21bn are currently under development (see feature page 18).

'It is a struggle to service the industry at the moment. We are in an international market competing for skills on an international scale. Unfortunately the salaries here are not as good as Dubai or China, ' said the consultant.

South Africa's government is attempting to ensure that more people from previously disadvantaged social groups are encouraged into company ownership and management. This is forcing international companies to employ more local staff.

'The universities are riddled [with HIV cases] and there is very little health education in place, so youngsters coming into the industry could be dead in 10 years, ' said another senior consultant who asked not to be named.

None of the consultants who spoke to NCE had plans for training, educating or providing health support for staff.

According to the Global Business Coalition (GBC) charity only 15% of businesses operating in the building and construction sector in South Africa have HIV policies in place.

A UNAIDS adviser said that the South African business community was starting to do more to tackle the issue.

'It makes good business sense to encourage staff to prevent new infections.

'Any company dealing with infrastructure development should make it a basic premise for doing business.

'Of course the nature and degree of help depends on the size and nature of the company, ' The GBC con rmed that small and medium-sized companies are doing little to tackle the HIV crisis. The South African consultancy market is dominated by small rms and 80% have less than 50 staff.

INFOPLUS www. nceplus. co. uk

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