Washington: Noting that a large number of employees of Indian industry are vulnerable to HIV, the World Bank has said the country’s private sector stands to gain by supporting interventions aimed at preventing the virus from spreading at the workplace and in local communities.
“As India emerges as a global economic power, it is important that Indian businesses pursue business practices and policies that are in the best interest of the community at large,” Mariam Claeson, the World Bank’s HIV/AIDS Coordinator for the South Asia Region said in a release.
“Businesses have much to offer and to gain from early decisive action to prevent HIV and reduce the cost and social impact of AIDS,” she added.
The report “Corporate Responses to HIV/AIDS” says a large share of India’s population, who are employees of Indian industry are vulnerable to HIV, and the disease affects primarily young and middle-aged adults during their peak productive years.
It said AIDS has a direct impact on companies’ profitability in hard hit countries. In the worst case scenario, the economic effects are observed in greater absenteeism and staff turnover, higher recruitment and training costs, and higher costs in medical care or insurance coverage, and retirement funds.
“Even in countries with overall low HIV prevalence, such as India, the mere cost of treating people living with HIV and AIDS will be a huge economic and social burden to society. Early decisive action by companies, that reach a large share of the population at risk, pays off,” it said.
The Bank noted that only 70 companies in India were engaged in fighting HIV and AIDS. “Despite the important role that Indian businesses can play in the fight against AIDS and in tackling stigma associated with AIDS among its workforce, only a small share of the private sector - around 70 companies - are engaged in fighting HIV and AIDS”.
The report features five case studies illustrating approaches that private and public sector companies have used in HIV and AIDS interventions in India that include companies like Reliance Industries Limited, Transport Corporation of India, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited, and Hindustan Lever Limited.
“The case studies illustrate the importance of integrating multiple stakeholders in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” Shanthi Divakaran, World Bank HIV/AIDS coordinator for the South Asia Finance and Private Sector unit, and one of the authors of the report has said.
“They also highlight the growing investment of businesses in that fight - an investment that recognizes their vulnerability to the economic and social impact of the epidemic. And they show that businesses are ready to demonstrate their social responsibility by tackling HIV and AIDS through their networks,” she added.
According to the report, the heterogeneous nature of the epidemic in India suggests that there is no one strategy for Indian businesses in the fight against HIV. Businesses that employ groups most at risk, such as truckers, may need to implement targeted interventions.
But all businesses can contribute to curbing the epidemic through a set of activities such as generating awareness about HIV and AIDS; reducing stigma; pursuing high-level advocacy efforts; creating a HIV policy for the workplace; and providing referrals for counseling and testing, the Bank said.
The Bank said since the report was put together, the Government of India has announced a major revision of their estimates of HIV prevalence in the country. Estimates of adults in the age group 15-40 years infected with HIV are now 2-3 million, down from the 2005 estimate of 5.2 million adults infected.
However, this does not argue for complacency. As the epidemic has evolved, rates among some groups practicing high risk behavior have approached 60%.
“Sexual networks of these groups are known to be wide and inter-digitated, with the potential to spread HIV among the wider community. It is clear that the widest participation of the government and society-at-large is essential to deal with the problem effectively,” it said.