Shifting the burden: the private sector’s response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa

By  Professor Sydney Rosen   Jonathon L. Simon  |  | 


As the economic burden of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) increases in sub-Saharan Africa, allocation of the burden among levels and sectors of society is changing. The private sector has more scope to avoid the economic burden of AIDS than governments, households, or nongovernmental organizations, and the burden is being systematically shifted away from the private sector. Common practices that transfer the burden to households and government include pre-employment screening, reductions in employee benefits, restructured employment contracts, outsourcing of low skilled jobs, selective retrenchments, and changes in production technologies. Between 1997 and 1999 more than two-thirds of large South African employers reduced the level of health care benefits or increased employee contributions. Most firms also have replaced defined-benefit retirement funds, which expose the firm to large annual costs but provide long-term support for families, with defined-contribution funds, which eliminate risks to the firm but provide little for families of younger workers who die of AIDS. Contracting out previously permanent jobs is also shielding firms from benefit and turnover costs, effectively shifting the responsibility to care for affected workers and their families to households, nongovernmental organizations, and the government. Many of these changes are responses to globalization that would have occurred in the absence of AIDS, but they are devastating for the households of employees with HIV/AIDS. We argue that the shift in the economic burden of AIDS is a predictable response by business to which a deliberate public policy response is needed. Countries should make explicit decisions about each sector’s responsibilities if a socially desirable allocation is to be achieved.

Publication details

Bulletin of the World Health Organization