AIDS is your business

By  Professor Sydney Rosen  Jonathan Simon  Jeffery R Vincent  Dr. William Macleod  Dr. Matthew Fox  Thea Donald M  |  | 


If your company operates in a developing country, AIDS is your business. While Africa has received the most attention, AIDS is also spreading swiftly in other parts of the world. Russia and Ukraine had the fastest-growing epidemics last year, and many experts believe China and India will suffer the next tidal wave of infection. Why should executives be concerned about AIDS? Because it is destroying the twin rationales of globalization strategy-cheap labor and fast-growing markets–in countries where people are heavily affected by the epidemic. Fortunately, investments in programs that prevent infection and provide treatment for employees who have HIV/AIDS are profitable for many businesses–that is, they lead to savings that outweigh the programs’ costs. Due to the long latency period between HIV infection and the onset of AIDS symptoms, a company is not likely to see any of the costs of HIV/AIDS until five to ten years after an employee is infected. But executives can calculate the present value of epidemic-related costs by using the discount rate to weigh each cost according to its expected timing. That allows companies to think about expenses on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs as investments rather than merely as costs. The authors found that the annual cost of AIDS to six corporations in South Africa and Botswana ranged from 0.4% to 5.9% of the wage bill. All six companies would have earned positive returns on their investments if they had provided employees with free treatment for HIV/AIDS in the form of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), according to the mathematical model the authors used. The annual reduction in the AIDS “tax” would have been as much as 40.4%. The authors’ conclusion? Fighting AIDS not only helps those infected; it also makes good business sense.

Publication details

Harvard Business Review