HIV workplace programmes can save companies money, valuable skills and knowledge among its labour force and improve the health and security of communities at large, according to a new study.
Carried out by Global Development Alliance (GDA) partner, CHAMP, along with the National AIDS Council of Zambia and IOM, the study, which does a cost-benefit analysis of some of Zambia’s largest private sector companies, also recommends that companies treat HIV as a strategic issue that requires planning.
With a national HIV prevalence of about 17 per cent – compounded by stigma and misconceptions – the Zambian workplace offers a good opportunity to access much-needed prevention and treatment programmes, especially for migrant workers who are vulnerable to the disease due to their mobility.
Some of Zambia’s largest employers have been implementing HIV workplace programmes to mitigate the impact of the disease on employees. In the past, these programmes have been justified on the basis that they are the “right thing to do” rather than a true analysis of the costs and benefits involved.
Data was collected from seven of the biggest companies in Zambia – four in the mining sector and three in the agricultural sector. All the companies are members of the GDA – a public-private partnership initiated and co-funded by USAID and administered by a local NGO, CHAMP (Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Management Programme).
The study calculated the costs of running the HIV programmes (including healthcare, peer education, counselling and testing and staff time spent on the programme) against the costs of HIV and AIDS to the company (including employee turnover, training new staff, loss of productivity, absenteeism and funeral costs). It found that HIV and AIDS have an enormous impact on all companies big and small, low-skilled and high-skilled, and that benefits outweigh costs, human and financial, by implementing a range of HIV programmes among staff including prevention and treatment. The largest company, for example, saved nearly US$ 500,000 in what would have been lost productivity from sick employees. It was also clear that the length of time the programme had been running for also mattered as did the size of the company with larger companies benefitting most.
The research also highlighted the high cost of symptomatic treatment for staff who are HIV positive but undiagnosed, estimated to be about seven times that of providing healthcare, including antiretroviral treatment, to those who know their status.
Prevention is vital in the fight against HIV and the study found that knowledge and prevention skills from the workplace programmes were spreading to the surrounding communities with access to information, condoms, and in some cases, treatment.
Temporary or seasonal workers were included in the study in four sites. Despite the limited inclusion of this group, the study found that including temporary workers in the HIV workplace programmes for provides a modest benefit to companies, with average savings of $32 per seasonal employee in three out of the four companies surveyed.
The study, co-funded by CHAMP, IOM, the Zambian National AIDS Council and USAID, also argued that the belief among companies that a plentiful and cheap supply of labour meant there was no need for HIV programming for temporary workers was short-sighted and would ultimately prove to be extremely costly for their business survival.
The full report is available on IOM’s website.