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World AIDS Day 2006 The workforce and HIV/AIDS: Employment is a crucial lifeline

In 2005, more than 3 million labour force participants worldwide were partially or fully unable to work because of illness due to AIDS. A new ILO report on HIV/AIDS and work ( Note 1) shows that both prevention and treatment could bring significant benefits to the global labour force and the economy, more particularly accessible and effective antiretroviral drug therapy (ARVs). ILO Online reports from Kenya.

Article | 30 November 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya (ILO Online) - For workers living with HIV/AIDS, employment is a crucial lifeline.

A recent study from Kenya ( Note 2) covering 769 households showed that providing antiretroviral drug (ARV) therapy resulted in a large and immediate increase in the number of people with HIV/AIDS who were able to continue working: within 6 months after beginning treatment, 20 per cent more were likely to be at work and 35 per cent more were able to work longer hours.

How does treatment translate into productivity and income? In the United Republic of Tanzania, for example, the ILO has calculated that a worker living with HIV/AIDS who is able to regain three-quarters of his or her current level of productive activity due to ARV treatment would gain about 18 months of productive life - or the equivalent of about $US 1,000 in monthly productivity gained.

ILO projections of access to treatment suggest that survival of labour force participants will increase substantially with access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), and even more so if their adherence to treatment is high.

"Assuming that treatment is initiated in 2006 for all workers with advanced AIDS and each year new workers are added to the treatment pool, 2.5 million workers would be alive globally at the end of 2010 who would otherwise have died, if 80 per cent of workers continue the treatment each year", explains Odile Frank, the main author of the report.

The report shows that a worker with AIDS given treatment in 2004 could have worked for 34 of the next 54 months on average. Every 12 months the average worker in the 60 countries most affected by HIV contributes 7 times the average per capita income of those countries.

"Essentially, to a worker living with HIV/AIDS, remaining employed is the foundation for treatment and a major therapeutic component as well as the only safeguard against impoverishment", says Ibrahim Coulibaly, another author of the report.

Call for action

According to the ILO report, these projections for 2006 argue loudly for comprehensive workplace action against HIV/AIDS, especially in the developing regions of Africa and Asia. But despite the current and anticipated rates of increase in access to ARVs, the HIV epidemic continues to have a very damaging impact on the labour force.

In 2005, more than 3 million labour force participants worldwide were partially or fully unable to work because of illness due to AIDS, and three-quarters of them lived in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the global number of labour force participants unable to work is expected to stabilize between now and 2020, and not yet decline, whereas it is expected to continue to increase in Africa, where slower growth of access to ARVs is projected.

"Access to ARVs is woefully delayed in resource-poor settings, although there has been some progress in broadening access just in the last year, 2005. Projections of labour force participants who will become ill and die underscore the urgent need to raise access to treatment to the very highest levels to avert the labour force losses otherwise projected", says Odile Frank.

Taking account of the global impact of the epidemic on all persons of working age, whereas 3.4 million working-age youth and adults died annually by 2005, the toll is expected to rise to 4.1 million by 2010, 4.4 million by 2015, and to reach 4.5 million by 2020, even with anticipated increases in access to ARVs. In developing regions, fewer deaths are expected to occur in Latin America and the Caribbean, but more deaths are projected in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

To tackle this challenge, the report recommends vigorous action on all fronts, particularly in favour of workers in resource-poor settings, youth, women, and mobile populations.

"These new analyses show clearly that both prevention and treatment can bring significant benefits to the global labour force and the world of work, even if prevention is too late for millions of persons already living with HIV. Each labour force life preserved represents a potential productive gain for the economy, the household and the family, especially children, as well as recognition of the fundamental rights of each and every working man and woman", the report concludes.

For more information, please contact the ILO Department of Communication, Tel.: +4122/799-7062, or see the ILO World AIDS Day site.

Note 1

Note 2 - Thirumurthy, H., J. Graff-Zivin & M. Goldstein (2006). The Economic Impact of AIDS Treatment: Labor Supply in Western Kenya. National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) Working Papers No. 11871.