HIV/AIDS & the workplace: Are we doing enough?

HIV/AIDS & the workplace: Are we doing enough?

According to a 2005 World Economic Forum (WEF) survey of 117 countries, 46% of executives expressed concern over the impact of HIV/AIDS on their operations. Yet only 9% of firms had conducted a quantitative HIV/AIDS risk assessment, only 18% had policies addressing discrimination (in terms of promotion, pay or benefits) based on HIV status.

The report concluded that businesses need to develop robust HIV/AIDS programmes to address discrimination and access to treatment as root problems.

Also See

HIV/AIDS awareness posters (1 and 2)

CII/IBT’s HIV/AIDS policy for industry (PDF)

The majority of firms (58%) in areas where national HIV prevalence exceeds one in five persons have formal HIV/AIDS policies. Where prevalence drops below this figure, though, very few firms (20%) have a policy; if there is one, it is more likely to be informal. In India, low risk does not translate into low numbers. At the India Economic Summit in 2006, Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss noted the 0.92% prevalence rate represented 5.2 million people.

HIV strikes at work

We stand at the tipping point on the HIV/AIDS epidemic scale. Close to four in every 1,000 adult Indians are estimated to be infected—according to government-run National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). It would appear to be obvious that workplace interventions are now necessary.

After all, HIV/AIDS is most prevalent in the age group that comprises the economically active population. Statistics from Population Services International (PSI)—a non-profit social marketing organization based in Washington, DC, that also works with Indian companies—say 90% of the population affected by HIV/AIDS is in the 15-49 age group.

“HIV/AIDS is a workplace issue as it affects people in the prime of their working life—it can adversely affect workers and their families, enterprise performance and national economies," says S. Mohammed Afsar, technical specialist (HIV/AIDS), South Asian region, International Labour Organization (ILO).

Which is why workplaces provide an ideal entry point for prevention and care programmes. “Some Indian workplaces have realized this, but workplace response to HIV/AIDS needs to be strengthened," adds Afsar.

Also Read Corporate initiatives on HIV/AIDS

Figures up to November show 12 companies (Gujarat Ambuja Cement Ltd, PepsiCo, SRF Group, Ballarpur Group of Industries Ltd, Transport Corp. of India Ltd, Apollo Tyres Ltd, Crompton Greaves Ltd, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (northern region), Jubilant Organosys, SAB Miller, JK Tyres Ltd, and Sona Koyo Steering Ltd) signed on for the ILO-corporate group partnership programme, covering 1,23,441 workers (including 64,506 contractual workers). Each company commits to a workplace policy, and to take up the programme at all locations, to reach at least 5,000 employees (including contracted workers).

Still, all too few companies in India have serious workplace programmes. The 2005-2006 Global Health Initiative study by the WEF included 100 Indian firms, and found only 11% had any written policy to combat discrimination based on HIV status. About 31% reported having an informal policy, while 52% had no policy. Awareness about HIV/AIDS among workers remains alarmingly low, at about 40-50%. The perception of personal risk among workers is also quite low. Indian Business Trust for HIV/AIDS, a unit of the Confederation of Indian Industry, says its programmes cover 2,200 companies. However, only 994 have signed the workplace policy.

Yet it is easy to piggyback such initiatives on existing ones. Ugam Solutions, based in Mumbai, provides market research, analytics and online marketing services to international clients. For its workforce of 800 across Mumbai, London, San Francisco and Chicago, Ugam conducts regular health check-ups and blood donation drives. An HIV status check is included in both.

Mphasis, an electronic data systems (EDS) company that offers voice and transaction-based BPO services, has centres in Bangalore, Mangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Noida, Ahmedabad and Puducherry. “Induction sessions for new recruits also include inputs on HIV/AIDS awareness," says Meenu Bhambani, manager, community initiatives, Mphasis.

Policy of awareness

Dedicated awareness programmes and a robust HIV policy are a key first step, at least acknowledging the problem. Bangalore-based Sterling Commerce (an AT&T company) runs a campaign titled What you don’t Know Can Hurt You. Nisha Gopinath, senior manager, human resources, says, “Most of us would like to think a disease like AIDS can’t happen to us or to anyone we know, but unfortunately it can and does happen to all kinds of people." Employees learn about the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, ways to prevent its spread, misconceptions about AIDS, how to get tested and why, and crucially, how to respond if someone they know tests positive.

Texport Industries Pvt. Ltd, a garment manufacturer and exporter based in Bangalore, has a workplace policy based on the ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS. “(It) focuses on non-discrimination, continuation of employment, right to information on HIV/AIDS," says S.W.H. Zaidi, vice-president, human resources.

Helping hands for HIV

Various non-profit organizations help initiate such programmes in workplaces. ILO, for one, has a three-phase project in India for establishing sustainable national action on HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support at work.

PSI works with the private sector to address health issues in at least 60 developing countries. In India, PSI works with 100 companies to promote Connect, an HIV/AIDS intervention programme. It has also launched a group insurance scheme for people living with HIV, in collaboration with Star Health Insurance.

Texport, with a workforce of 11,000 (90% women), used PSI Connect to train 20 “master trainers" among its employees, who in turn educated 200 “peer educators" on transmission and treatment of HIV/AIDS. These employees are educating other workers. The plan is to reach at least 80% of the workers this year.

Mphasis, too, trained 30 “master trainers" through PSI Connect. Public sector enterprise Bangalore Metropolitan Road Transport Corporation has also signed on.

Act against HIV/AIDS

Here is a ready reckoner on introducing an HIV/AIDS intervention programme at your workplace

1. How to start: Contact NACO or State AIDS Prevention and Control Societies in your region for a start-up model. ILO, CII and NGOs also offer technical assistance.

(For details, see ‘CONTACT’, bottom left)

2. How much it will cost: Depends on the model .—a basic awareness and advocacy programme (many organizations offer free technical assistance for these), or one with added services such as anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and voluntary testing. Companies report an annual outlay of about Rs2-5 lakh for 2,000-5,000 employees (for the awareness and advocacy model).

3. What is included: Initial survey of all employees to gauge awareness and mindset, master trainer and peer educator training, role-play sessions and behaviour modification assessment are common components.

4. How much time it will take: This is no one-day or weekend seminar, but an ongoing effort. Also, to keep up with staff turnover, training needs to be continuous. Companies that already have HR training programmes in place can easily weave an HIV/AIDS module into their calendars.

5. Benefits: Direct benefits may include reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. In terms of corporate social responsibility, your reach can extend far and wide. A company may have 1,500 employees, but the programmes can cover the entire contractual worker fraternity (in some cases, as many as 50,000). A good example is Pepsi, which covered most of its bottlers and supply chain through the ILO programme).

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Get help on HIV/AIDS initiatives for the workplace

• NACO (National AIDS Control Organization), at

• SACS (State AIDS Prevention and Control Societies) — See ‘Quick Links’ on the NACO website

• ILO (International Labour Organization), HIV/AIDS India Project, at — ILO has card games and posters, and downloadable resources for employers

• CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), at — Under the ‘Strategic Partners’ tab, find the link to IBT

• IBT (Indian Business Trust) for HIV/AIDS, at

• PSI (Population Services International), at Staff Writer


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