Gold-mining company Anglo American has become the latest multinational business operating in southern Africa to offer free anti-Aids drugs to HIV-positive workers.
The move follows similar initiatives by diamond producer De Beers and financial house Old Mutual. Big business has been forced to step in because governments in the region cannot cope with the scale of the problem.
With more than 20 per cent of its economically active population HIV-positive, South Africa has the highest infection rate in the world. Government estimates show that a comprehensive treatment programme would swallow up the country's annual health budget.
The cost to companies of free provision is unclear. Some analysts estimate that, with one in five of Anglo American's 90,000 employees HIV-positive, the treatment bill could amount to more than 1 billion [pounds sterling] over 10 years. But the companies argue that there is a sound business rationale behind their strategy. A spokesman for Anglo American said: "The state does not provide HIV treatment for the population at large. We...