Business Needs to Play a Role in Fighting HIV

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Russian business leaders are very aware of the negative role that alcohol and drug abuse play on the workplace, but the potential threat that HIV poses to the strength of the private sector is not as high on the corporate agenda. It should be.

The spread of AIDS should be a concern to all of us. Russia has the highest number of HIV-positive cases in Europe. Failure to address this problem could significantly hamper the ability of companies to effectively operate in the highly competitive global marketplace.

Corporations can protect themselves by integrating education and prevention into workplace health care programs. The number of companies with workplace policies on HIV has almost tripled over the past two years, but more needs to be done. Only 15 percent of Russian companies have initiated AIDS prevention programs, and only 10 percent have adopted special policies protecting the rights of HIV-positive employees.

Today, there are more than 300 governmental and nongovernmental AIDS prevention projects in Russia. Most of these initiatives, however, are targeted at either students or other risk groups. Very few of them address the adult working population.

Although many companies have taken action to protect their employees' health and some even support community initiatives, it's clear that we have more work ahead of us to convince business leaders that AIDS poses a direct and serious threat to their work force.

More than 74 percent of Russian business leaders say alcohol has a significant negative impact on the competitiveness of their companies, according to a survey that was conducted by the Transatlantic Partners against AIDS and the Russian Managers Association. Nearly half of the respondents said drug abuse had a negative effect on their companies' operations. But only 12 percent of respondents said AIDS was negatively influencing their companies' competitiveness.

Many of our CEOs and executives have not yet experienced the direct impact of AIDS because most employees who are HIV-positive have not yet developed AIDS-related illnesses. But the epidemic is a ticking time bomb that, if left ignored, will explode in the next few years.

We cannot ignore the fact that Russia faces the fastest growing epidemic in Europe. Corporations need to act now to help our employees remain healthy and disease-free.

Daniel Kashnitsky is an associate at Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.