GENEVA (Reuters) - Companies can save money and retain more staff by offering their workers HIV programs, particularly in areas where infection rates are high, an international aid agency said on Tuesday.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) analyzed conditions in Zambia, where 17 percent of adults have HIV and many large private-sector companies depend on migrant workers who are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
Its study, which looked at copper mining and agricultural firms, found that HIV “had an enormous impact on all companies among all ranges of skills”, IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said.
“By implementing a range of HIV programs for staff, the benefits far outweigh the costs, both human and financial,” she told a Geneva news briefing.
HIV programs in the workplace — including health care, testing and counseling — gave employees a chance to combat discrimination and learn about prevention, the IOM found.
They also helped prevent absenteeism, employee turnover, and lost productivity, according to the study which assessed data from seven of the biggest companies in Zambia, employing between 350 and 10,000 people.
The typical company spent nearly $9,000 per employee lost to the disease, including funeral expenses and the costs having a supervisor train a successor. Six of the seven companies showed net benefits for their programs, amounting to an average of $47 per employee in the year 2006, according to the report.
The largest company saved nearly $500,000 in what would have been lost productivity from sick employees, Pandya said, adding: “The larger the company, the greater the benefits it derived.”
The IOM reported a general belief among companies in Zambia that labor was “plentiful, cheap and always there,” but warned this was extremely short-sighted.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Laura MacInnis