First global analysis of HIV/AIDS impact on the world of work

A new ILO report and the first global analysis of HIV/AIDS impact on the world of work estimates that 5 million people of working age in Asia are infected with HIV and that more than 10 million will be lost to Asian labour force by 2010.

Press release | BANGKOK | 12 July 2004

BANGKOK (ILO News) – A new global report [1] on the impact HIV/AIDS is having in the workplace in five Asian economies has found that almost five million people of working age have HIV—the human immunodeficiency virus.

The new International Labour Office (ILO) report, which covers the situation in Cambodia , China , India , Myanmar and Thailand , also says that by next year more than five million workers in these countries will have been lost to the workforce as a result of AIDS since the start of the epidemic. By 2010, in the absence of increased access to treatment, almost five million more will be lost and by 2015 the total figure will top 18 million.

The report warns that this destruction of “human capital” – skills and experience - built up over years, damages the capacity of workers and employers to produce the goods and services their economies need to develop and grow.

Worldwide, the report estimates that 36.5 million people of working age carry HIV. By 2005 as many as 28 million people will have been lost to the global workforce since the epidemic began. Overall, the study covers 50 countries[2], in Asia , sub-Saharan Africa , Latin America and the Caribbean and two developed regions.

In some of the Asian countries it was not possible to estimate the effect of HIV/AIDS on national economic growth, either because data was not available (Myanmar) or because while individual countries ( China and India ) have more than a million people with HIV/AIDS, the overall prevalence is low. However in Cambodia the report calculates that between 1992-2002 the average annual GDP growth rate was lower by 0.4 percent per year (equivalent to US$53 million per annum) because of the effects of HIV/AIDS and in Thailand the annual GDP growth rate was cut by 0.1 percent per year, equivalent to US$424 million per annum.

In all the Asian economies studied the proportion of those in their prime working years (15-49) with the virus is higher than among the general population. In Cambodia it is estimated at 2.6 per cent, in Thailand 1.5 percent, Myanmar 1.2 per cent, India 0.8 per cent and China 0.1 per cent.

Generally, new infections in Asia are occurring faster among women than among men, a trend which has broad, long-term implications. For example, in Thailand the majority of new infections result when a husband passes the virus to his wife.

By 2010 the report estimates that AIDS will account for more than a third of all orphans in Thailand . They are most likely to be cared for by grandparents, but studies have shown that grandparents are often too poor to give children the material support they need, such as adequate food or access education. Increasing numbers of children from HIV-affected households do not go to school - girls in particular. There is ample evidence, the authors say, that without adequate adult mentors and limited educational opportunities these children will miss out on the skills they need to find decent work, create decent lives for themselves, and contribute to their society.

In Asia a significant proportion of those with HIV report meeting discrimination. In a study by APN[3] 80 percent of respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination and one in eight said they were coerced into being tested for the virus (this rose to nearly 25 percent among jobseekers being tested for potential employment). After a positive diagnosis, many were refused treatment and many – including a high percentage of women tested during pregnancy – faced subsequent delays in getting health care. Breaches of patient confidentially by health workers were common.

“HIV/AIDS is not only a human crisis, it is a threat to sustainable global, social and economic development,” says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “The loss of life and the debilitating effects of the illness will lead not only to a reduced capacity to sustain production and employment, reduce poverty and promote development, but will be a burden borne by all societies – rich and poor alike”.

The report was prepared on the basis of newly developed demographic and epidemiological data from the United Nations and other sources that for the first time allow such global projections of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the world of work. . It is published today and will be presented at the XVth International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok , Thailand on 11-16 July.

Other key findings

  • Globally, the study estimates that, without increased access to treatment, HIV/AIDS will become the single biggest cause of mortality in the world of work; 48 million workers will be dead by 2010 and 74 million by 2015.
  • Of the 35.7 million persons between the ages of 15 to 49 estimated by UNAIDS to be infected with HIV, 26 million are workers. If all working-age persons, including those aged up to 64 and others performing informal work either inside or outside their homes are added, the estimated number of persons with HIV climbs to 36.5 million.
  • HIV/AIDS is expected to have a severe impact on the rate of growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and GDP per capita. In countries where the impact was measurable between 1992-2002, the rate of growth of GDP was lower by 0.2 per cent per year (equivalent to US$25 billion per annum) and the rate of growth of GDP per capita was lower by 0.1 per cent per year (equivalent to US$5 per capita per annum).
  • The direct impact of HIV/AIDS on workers is twofold. While tens of millions have already died, millions more are dropping out of the labour force. The ILO estimates that in 2005, 2 million workers globally will be unable to work – up from 500,000 in 1995. By 2015, the number will double to four million people.
  • Other economically active workers and adults in the household of a person with HIV/AIDS will be forced to shoulder an increased economic burden.
  • Adults of working age, whether or not they are part of the formal labour force, may have to drop economically productive activities to devote time to care, increasing the impact of the illness. So, if two million workers are unable to work because of HIV/AIDS, approximately two million more persons of working age will be unable to work because of care duties.

Not all the news is bad, however. While the ILO report underscores the dramatic impact that HIV/AIDS has on the labour force, on rural societies and on the economy, it stresses that the workplace holds out extraordinary promise as part of the solution.

“The workplace is an ideal medium for a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS,” said Odile Frank, coordinator of the report. “Work provides a venue – the workplace – where talking about HIV/AIDS is especially relevant, where prevention skills can be directly transmitted, and where treatment can be exceptionally productive.”

For more information or copies of the full report contact:
Krisdaporn Singhaseni
Tel: + 02 288 1664/01 624 1399

Sophy Fisher
Tel: + 02 288 2482/09 895 0912

Thomas Netter
Tel: + 41 79 593-1366

[1] HIV/AIDS and work: Global estimates, impact and response, The ILO Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, International Labour Office, Geneva 2004, ISBN 92-2-115824-1, available at

[2] The countries covered in the report include 40 countries with an estimated HIV prevalence over 2 percent in 2001, 5 countries with an estimated prevalence between 1.5 and 2.0 in 2001, and 5 countries with a population of persons living with HIV/AIDS of a million or more. They include 35 countries of sub-Saharan Africa , 8 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean , 5 countries of Asia , and 2 countries in the more developed regions. See report Main Table 1 for country-by-country and regional data in the report, beginning page 72.

[3] Asia-Pacific Network For People Living With HIV/AIDS