Companies around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about AIDS, with 46 percent now expecting some impact on their operations in the next five years, according to a study released on Wednesday.
That is a marked increase on the 37 percent of respondents who foresaw an impact in the same survey a year ago.
Professor David Bloom of Harvard School of Public Health, lead author of the report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), said deepening corporate concern matched the growing scale of the epidemic in many countries.
“It’s in managers’ faces now. Staff are getting sick, more are off work to attend funerals and it’s getting harder to operate businesses,” he told reporters during a briefing in London.
With an estimated 40.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and a record 4.9 million new infections last year, the disease has the potential to cripple economies and decimate workforces, hitting the bottom line of many businesses.
Yet although nearly half the 11,000 corporate leaders in 117 countries surveyed recognised that HIV/AIDS would hurt their business in future, only 9 percent had conducted a quantitative risk assessment.
Furthermore, it is only in regions where HIV prevalence exceeds one in five of the population that the majority of firms have formal HIV/AIDS policies in place. Where the incidence is lower, only 20 percent of companies have enacted policies, and these are likely to be informal.
Francesca Boldrini, director of the WEF’s Global Health Initiative, said better workplace programmes were needed and she urged more companies to draw up clear plans to prevent and treat the sexually transmitted disease.
Standard Chartered Plc, a British-based bank with major operations in sub-Saharan Africa, is one company that has already done so.
Richard Meddings, the group’s executive director responsible for risk assessment, said there had simply been no choice.
Standard Chartered calculates that more than 10 percent of its Kenyan employees are off work every day as a result of AIDS, either because they are sick, are caring for relatives or are attending a funeral.
Meddings said it was a similar story in other parts of Africa where the company has operations.
Coping with the challenge of AIDS and other diseases - including the growing threat posed by bird flu - will be a theme of the WEF annual meeting later this month in Davos, Switzerland.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD