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ILO Says HIV-AIDS Takes Heavy Toll  at  Workplace - 2004-07-11

The International Labor Organization estimates that 36.5 million people of working age have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The ILO says, by next year, as many as 28 million workers will have died from AIDS, since the start of the outbreak around the world two decades ago.

The International Labor Organization calls HIV/AIDS one of the biggest causes of mortality in the working world. It estimates the number of workers lost to HIV-AIDS will have increased to 48 million by 2010 and to 74 million by 2015, if there is not increased access to treatment.

In addition, says the author of the report, Odile Frank, by next year, about two million people will be too ill to work.

"This is up from one-half-million in 1995," he said. "We also estimate that by 2015, the number will have doubled to four million persons, at any one time, too ill to work and who will have dropped out of the labor force. And, in the absence of treatment, these persons, at the end of a long illness will die, and will join the numbers of those who are lost to the labor force."

The ILO says it surveyed workers aged 15-64 in 50 countries. It found the majority of countries most affected by HIV-AIDS are in Africa, where the disease is most prevalent among 15 to 49-year-olds.

The report says the loss of workers who are at their most productive stage in life is costing the world about $25 billion a year.

The ILO says women pay the biggest price. It reports that more young women than men are becoming infected with HIV. In addition, women are the primary caregivers. So, when a member of the family gets ill, it is the woman who has to stop working to care for the person.

The report says this poses particular problems in Africa, where women are responsible for subsistence farming. When a woman becomes too ill to farm, it says, the family as a whole suffers from increased poverty and lack of food.

Ms. Frank says the workplace is an ideal place to reach people with prevention, care and treatment. She says there are many examples of companies, which have benefited from assisting their HIV-positive work staff.

"For example, a mining company in South Africa has demonstrated that mortality declined from 30 percent to three percent - and, that is quoted in the report - in a very short period of time," said Ms. Frank. "Mortality is immediately affected when you start treating people. Absenteeism declined dramatically. The other cost to companies, of course, are all the cost of absenteeism and of replacing workers who may be key, who have particular skills."

Ms. Frank says it is very expensive to replace, recruit and train new workers. She says treatment programs at the workplace are a humane response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Not only that, she says, more and more companies are finding these programs are the best way to maintain profitability and ensure growth.