AIDS impact on African development ‘underestimated,’ UN labour agency says

AIDS impact on African development ‘underestimated,’ UN labour agency says

The economic and social impact of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is far more severe than previously thought and will seriously undermine the development prospects of affected countries, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) said today, urging a major shift in policy that adapts to this sobering reality.

The economic and social impact of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is far more severe than previously thought and will seriously undermine the development prospects of affected countries, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) said today, urging a major shift in policy that adapts to this sobering reality.

In a new report released at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, ILO experts say that previous attempts by economists to measure the costs of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa “are likely to be significant underestimates of the social and economic value of the losses of ‘human capital’ that are being experienced.”

The study shows that it is becoming increasingly difficult across all occupational sectors in sub-Saharan Africa to replace skilled and unskilled labour lost to HIV/AIDS. And because AIDS affects public and private sector workers who provide essential services, many countries are increasingly unable to find the resources badly needed to sustain even current levels of economic development.

“Decades of gains in development, training, skills and education are being lost forever,” says Franklyn Lisk, Director of the ILO Global Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work. “The belief that these losses can be replenished from a vast pool of unemployed or underemployed labour is a fallacy.”

Among its conclusions, the study found that the epidemic has been eroding the capacity for development through its effects on labour supplies, saving rates, national security and social cohesion. Health care and education will also be affected directly by the problems of replacing lost labour and skills afflicting other sectors.

Meanwhile, AIDS has been preventing both men and women from providing their full contribution to development, maintaining the structure of families and sustaining productive capacity over the longer term. The epidemic has also been eroding the savings capacity of households, formal and informal enterprises as well as governments through its direct effects on flows of income and levels of expenditure.

ILO officials say workers and employers must be given advice and technical assistance as part of the effort to engage both sides more in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“So far, the resources allocated to this effort have been pitifully inadequate,” Mr. Lisk says. “The international community and African leaders must work together to find the resources and the will to establish workplace policy and programmes across the continent.”