Guided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and industry lobbies, several hundred Indian companies have started affirmative action at workplace to prevent spread of HIV infection and help those infected get a conducive work environment.
"Impact of HIV/AIDS is seen most in the most productive age between 15-48," said S. Mohammed Afsar, ILO national project coordinator for South Asia at a meet organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) here Wednesday.
CII through its Indian Business Trust for HIV/AIDS facilitates prevention, care and treatment programmes both within companies and in their neighbouring communities. Around 700 companies have so far signed their commitment to CII's HIV/AIDS policy for industry.
"HIV has impacted every sector. It is as much a problem of the white-collar worker as it is of blue-collar worker. Companies can have a very effective programme at a very low cost, if you start early," said Afsar.
ILO has so far formed 69 state level alliances in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Goa.
In addition, alliances have been formed with eight corporate groups including Pepsi Co, Ballarpur Gujarat Ambuja Cement Ltd, SRF Group, Apollo Tyres, Transport Corporation of India Ltd, Crompton Greaves Ltd and Hindustan Lever Ltd.
"The group approach allows us to reach out to multi locations of a company. The alliance with the eight corporate groups has helped us to reach out to units in 115 locations," said Afsar.
Altogether this has helped to reach out HIV/AIDS programme to 101,682 workers including contractual employees.
Corporate houses generally undertake the projects at their own cost, with ILO, the NGOs working with the state-run National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) providing the training.
In the case of medicines (antiretroviral therapy) and condoms, the corporates are now striving to supplement efforts of various government programmes through company medical schemes.
Among the most challenging tasks faced by the companies has been framing a HIV/AIDS work policy in consensus with the workforce at all levels including trade unions and management, representatives from leading companies said.
Findings of a study on the Socio-Economic Impact of HIV/AIDS on Households, conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), highlights that "HIV infections reduce household incomes by as much as 10 percent, with the impact being especially severe on those engaged in agricultural labour."
"This is on account of job losses or leave of absence for people living with HIV/AIDS and their care-givers," said NCAER Director-General Suman K. Bery, presenting the study.
Two-thirds of households surveyed, and 77 percent of those in agriculture labour, suffered this loss of income.
In addition, unemployment among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) increased to 9.8 percent from 3.6 between the time they were tested and surveyed.
HIV/AIDS also increases the workload on the elderly and girl children, said Bery.
HIV households spend 400 percent more than non-HIV households on medical expenses and have a lower per capita outlay on education.
The NCAER survey also shows that HIV households are higher borrowers than non-HIV ones, with 46 percent having taken a loan in the past one year. This is nearly twice the number of non-HIV households.
"HIV/AIDS can significantly detract from India's demographic dividend," warned Bery suggesting that companies need to find ways to persuade employees to reveal their HIV status.
This is possible if companies assure their employees that there will be no discrimination or loss of employment, are educated about the disease and work with vendors, suppliers and neighbouring communities to raise awareness about the disease, he said.