As significant employers of largely unskilled employees, South African mining companies have found themselves at the forefront of programmes aimed at HIV/AIDS education and awareness.
Peer education was introduced in 2000 as a way of changing behaviour patterns to ensure safer sexual practices among employees and external groups (families and communities), through either formal or informal interaction with an educator they could feel comfortable with - for example, someone with whom they socialise, play sport, or share a room. It was felt that the peer educator approach would remove any feelings of imposition by management, and that employees were more likely to engage with educators from a similar lifestyle in a non-threatening environment. Buti Kulwane, assistant manager HIV/AIDS at AngloGold Health Service has been involved with peer education since the early 1990s, when it was really the only form of education - and informal at that.
"Over the years, however, companies recognised its effectiveness as a teaching tool and the mining industry, in particular, decided to include it as part of its formal education and awareness programmes, linked to government's five-year HIV/AIDS strategic plan. As a result AngloGold Ashanti trained its first peer educators in 2001."
Peer educators are trained in a variety of skills including presentation techniques; participatory facilitation; Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), gender issues and TB; and how the immune system works (e.g. understanding the viral load and CD4 count). Education sessions are held either formally in weekly group meetings with employees or informally on a daily basis with individuals. Peer education also takes place as part of induction training (when employees return from leave and are reacquainted with mine safety procedures) or is promoted at quarterly business unit awareness campaigns.
Up until last year peer educators were trained by AngloGold Ashanti's in-house peer educator trainer; 351 peer educators were trained between 2001 and 2003. However, during 2004 AngloGold Ashanti's in-house trainer left the health service with the result that only 14 peer educators were trained in 2004. The company has now decided to engage the services of an external South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) accredited training vendor, and courses are to commence from the 28 March 2005 until the end of the year. As training is to become an external function, individual mines will now be responsible for the logistics of peer educator training and payment thereof.
Two regional co-coordinators were appointed at the end of 2004 to ensure effective
Peer Education through monitoring, mentoring and motivating, the key pillars of peer education sustainability. The training vendor will also be responsible for skills and knowledge transfer in these three spheres. Key performance areas in the newly established regional co-ordinator positions are training provision; leadership and control; and liaison and communication.
Philip Alexander, Savuka's senior HR officer, has been involved with his mine's
peer education programme for the last three years. Savuka is unique in that it has an HIV/AIDS
information centre as well as a full-time peer educator, Jutas Rikhotso, a former driller underground. Rikhotso was inspired to become a part-time peer educator in 1999 because he wanted to know more about HIV/AIDS and to tell others about it, after realising that people generally weren't educated about the disease. He assumed the role of full-time peer educator in 2003 and now conducts training sessions for employees at Savuka's
training centre. Since employees' partners are also an important target group in changing sexual behaviour patterns, Rikhotso also educates groups of wives, girlfriends and sex workers at the
visiting wives' centre, accompanied by a female VCT counsellor.
Savuka also has 27 part-time peer educators but aims to have 37 by the end of 2005; this will reduce the ratio to one peer educator for 80 people. (Guidelines vary from 1:20 up to 1:100.) According to Alexander, incentives are important in motivating peer educators and encouraging on-going peer education commitment. Savuka awards peer educators with certificates of
peer education competence, and distributes AIDS-related goods (e.g. HIV/AIDS-awareness T-shirts) to identify peer educators, and educational resources (e.g. HIV/AIDS toolkits) to assist in education sessions; the mine also holds an annual function which recognises 'Best
peer educator of the year'.
The success of AngloGold Ashanti's overall peer educator programme is currently difficult to gauge, since proper monitoring mechanisms are not yet in place. However, as from 2005 peer educators will be obliged to submit monthly progress reports to their respective regional co-ordinator, in an effort to establish
the effectiveness of peer education.