More Companies Creating Programs to Address HIV/AIDS

Major companies are creating a wide variety of programs to help employees deal with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a report released by the Conference Board, the global business research and membership organization.

The report finds that 82 percent of the 134 major firms surveyed have HIV/AIDS programs aimed at helping employees who already have the disease or at risk of infection. The study is based on a survey of 134 leading health-benefits and HR executives, as well as in-depth interviews with directors of company HIV/AIDS programs and attorneys specializing in disability and HIV/AIDS law. The study builds on a 1997 report on the corporate response to this dilemma. It also draws on the experiences of companies whose operations in sub-Saharan Africa and other high-prevalence regions have put them on the disease's front lines.

More than two-thirds of the surveyed companies have been affected by HIV/AIDS, with one-fifth of these firms anticipating a growing impact of this epidemic over the next three years. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 67 percent of all adults and children suffering from HIV last year. The disease has yet to peak in most of southern Africa.

Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe/Central Asia are high-risk regions. Asia accounted for 14.5 percent of global HIV cases in 2007, and a 23.1 percent rise in the rate of the newly infected between 2001 and 2007. Latin America accounted for 4.8 percent of all cases and a 23.1 percent increase in new infections. Eastern Europe/Central Asia accounted for 4.8 percent of all cases, and a 34 percent hike in new infections.

Worldwide, the number of people living with HIV rose from 29 million in 2001 to 33.2 million in 2007. Forty percent of new cases are among individuals 15 to 24, the age at which employees are just entering the workforce and will require ever greater medical care throughout their working lives. Companies feel the impact of HIV/AIDS in many ways. Fewer skilled workers and managers, greater absenteeism and turnover, and higher healthcare and insurance costs can reduce productivity and increase expenses.

"While there is no cure, medical advances have made it possible for people with the disease to live longer, achieve better quality of life, and be more productive, both at home and in the workplace," said Henry Silvert, research associate at the Conference Board and author of the report. "In response to this new reality, and faced with an expected growth of new infections, more companies have been stepping up efforts to provide programs that effectively meet the needs of their employees living with the disease, or the risk of infection."

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