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Businesses Urged to Tackle TB Among Employees

It’s estimated that nine million people develop active tuberculosis every year and that nearly two million die annually from the disease.

Saturday, March 24th, is World TB Day and many groups and organizations are gearing up by issuing reports on the matter. For example, the World Economic Forum is urging businesses to step up their response to the disease.

Francesca Boldrini is director of the forum’s Global Health Initiative. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the social and economic implications of TB.

“TB is very prevalent in 22 countries around the world. And in those countries we know it’s having significant impact on businesses – both in terms of costs that they’re incurring because of insurance and medical costs for their staff, but also costs like retraining, retraining the skilled personnel that they often lose because of TB. And the situation is becoming worse as the TB epidemic is being fueled by the HIV epidemic and even more so in recent months with the new concerns about XDR-TB, which is this very drug resistant form of TB,” she says.

In recent years, businesses had to take action to addresses HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Boldrini says, “In fact it’s the same issue…. We have a survey that’s in over 100 countries and over 9,000 businesses and the survey looks at are businesses prepared for AIDS, TB and malaria in their workplace. And one of the things we’ve discovered is we’ve been successful in terms of helping them be prepared for AIDS. And if you take for example a region like Africa, over 70 percent of companies in Africa now have AIDS programs for the workplace, but on TB this isn’t happening yet. Of those companies, those same companies, only 30 percent have something in place for TB.”

Boldrini says companies need to take what they’ve learned about dealing with AIDS and apply it to TB. However, she says that it’s much easier to deal with because there’s an inexpensive cure for TB. Less than $10.