UN labour report shows toll taken by AIDS in the workplace
More than 3 million people around the world are unable to work because of illnesses caused by HIV/AIDS, according to a new report by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) which argues that better treatment for sufferers would bring significant benefits for the global economy.
The report, released today to coincide with World AIDS Day, concludes that almost 25 million paid workers live with HIV/AIDS, as well as another 11 million people who are engaged in some form of productive activity, such as women working in the home.
The situation is worst in sub-Saharan Africa – last year three-quarters of the 3 million labour force participants who were partially or fully unable to work because of AIDS came from that region.
The report also finds that the pandemic is stifling economic growth in countries hit hardest by HIV/AIDS, resulting in an annual net loss of 1.3 million jobs worldwide.
The report stresses that these problems will only worsen unless people living in sub-Saharan Africa and other afflicted regions have much greater access to antiretroviral treatment (known as ARVs).
“The prospect of averting between one fifth and one quarter of potential new losses to the labour force should serve as a powerful incentive to target the workplace as a major entry point to achieve universal access to ARVs,” the report’s authors state.
To tackle some of the worker shortages caused by HIV/AIDS, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has introduced a series of labour-saving technologies to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on poor and rural households. The agency has also launched food and nutrition programmes to improve people’s immune systems and help fend off opportunistic diseases.
In Zimbabwe, the Government is working with FAO to implement a five-year agricultural sector plan on HIV/AIDS that includes detailed information gathering and monitoring to accurately assess the cost of the pandemic on farming communities.
Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender and Population Division, said these strategies are necessary because even in those developing countries where access to ARVs is increasing, it is unlikely they will be available to many people in poor rural areas.
“The heavy loss of agricultural labour in countries where the majority of the population lives in rural areas is likely to affect productivity, food production, food security and poverty for decades to come,” she said.