By debilitating and killing large numbers of adults of working age, HIV/AIDS stands to reduce the operational effectiveness of institutions in high prevalence countries. With 15% of Malawian adults between the age of 15 and 49 estimated to be infected with the virus, the extent and implications of HIV/AIDS related attrition in the Malawian public service is cause for concern. This is because, should HIV/AIDS related attrition not be recognised and managed, its impact could cripple public sector institutions, including those in the Safety, Security and Access to Justice Sector (SSAJ). In so doing, this could seriously undermine the ability of SSAJ institutions to provide their mandated services to the people of Malawi.
In response to these concerns, the Malawi Safety, Security and Access to Justice Programme (MaSSAJ) commissioned the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Malawi Institute of Management (MIM) to assess the impact of HIV/AIDS attrition on the 14 SSAJ institutions and to develop appropriate mitigation strategies.
Important findings of this study are that, despite denial and a general lack of acknowledgement that HIV/AIDS presents a significant organisational issue:
- SSAJ personnel are susceptible to HIV/AIDS: Due to a range of factors, including age, urban residence, postings away from home, relative wealth and status, most SSAJ personnel are at high risk of HIV infection.
- The SSAJ sector is vulnerable to the impacts of HIV/AIDS related attrition: As in the Malawian public service more generally, productivity with the SSAJ is low and vacancy rates are already high. Thus, a reliance on technically skilled, and thus hard to replace staff, together with a lack of information sharing, lengthy recruitment processes, and non-adherence to already generous sick leave and retirement policies, make the sector extremely vulnerable to the impacts of HIV/AIDS related attrition. This is likely to be compounded by a weak human resource monitoring and planning systems.
- A large number of people are likely to be dying each year of AIDS related diseases: Although a lack of prevalence testing within the institutions making up the SSAJ made it impossible to accurately estimate prevalence, death rates within all but two of the institutions were higher than expected for the population as a whole. Given that roughly one in six Malawians of working age are thought to be HIV+, and that the epidemic in Malawi has reached a level of maturity at which large numbers of people can be expected to start dying, it is likely that a large proportion of these deaths are a result of HIV/AIDS.
- Such deaths, and related absenteeism, are impacting on the operational effectiveness of the institutions in the SSAJ: Anecdotal evidence suggests that not only are operational budgets being increasingly diverted away from core business costs to funeral costs, but that attrition is impacting negatively on service provision.
- Institutions have yet to develop a sustainable response to the HIV/AIDS related attrition: Where organizations are responding to attrition, such responses focus only on short-term solutions such as recruitment and replacement strategies, flexibility in applying conditions of service (sick leave, compassionate leave, medical retirement and funeral benefits) and ad hoc provision of anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy.
On the basis of these findings, six strategies for mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS-related attrition on SSAJ sector institutions were identified and detailed. All can be implemented by organisations in the short to medium term without having to wait for public sector reform initiatives or national HIV/AIDS policy decisions. They involve:
- Raising awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS-related attrition on the organization;
- Conducting institutional audits to assess the impact of HIV/AIDS on organizations;
- Developing a management information system to enable managers to manage all forms of attrition, including HIV/AIDS-related attrition;
- Building capacity to manage all forms of attrition including HIV/AIDS-related attrition;
- Implementing appropriate non-replacement responses, and;
- Developing comprehensive HIV/AIDS in the workplace programmes.