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Killer virus stunts economy

HIV can bring down household incomes by 10%, reports Sanchita Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2006 03:16 IST

Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection can bring down household incomes by at least 10 per cent, with poor agricultural labourers bearing the brunt of it, a National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) study on the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS in India has found.

Presenting data from the first attempt to measure the macro-economic impact of HIV/AIDS, NCAER director-general Suman Bery said if the present trends continue, average annual growth rate during the 14-year period will come down by 1 per cent, accompanied by a reduction in per capita GDP. Bery was speaking at a Confederation of Indian Industry session on “Dealing with HIV/AIDS: The Challenge Ahead of Business” on Wednesday, organised by the Indian Business Trust for HIV/AIDS and CII. He said if the virus continues to spread unchecked, health expenditure of households and the government will rise, which will reduce national savings. This, in turn, will adversely impact investment. The decrease in investment will cause growth to slow, leading to shrinking labour demand and high unemployment rates.

The NCAER surveyed 8,000 people in the six high-prevalence states of Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland. "Two-thirds of households surveyed and 77 per cent of those engaged in agricultural labour suffer this loss of income. In addition, unemployment among people with HIV/AIDS increased to 9.8 per cent from 3.6 between the time they were tested and surveyed. HIV/AIDS also increases the workload on the elderly and the girl child,” Bery said, adding that this can impact the overall savings rate in India. He urged employers to persuade employees to reveal their HIV status by ensuring no discrimination or loss of employment.

Close to 700 companies have signed their commitment to CII's HIV/AIDS policy for industry that facilitates prevention, care and treatment both within companies and communities. More than 2,000 companies have started “HIV in the workplace” programmes. The corporate sector is concerned because the highest number of infections is among those in the productive age group of 15-49 years. “Companies can start with creating awareness and prevention. The second step is working with government agencies to provide diagnostic and medical facilities. The third is counselling employees to overcome stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS,” said Hari Bhartia, co-chairman and managing director of Jubilant Organosys.

The rising incidence of HIV/AIDS is impacting bottomlines and leading to loss of trained personnel. “Companies are getting wiser. The change is slow, but visible,” said Tanun Das, chief mentor, CII.

Email Sanchita Sharma: sanchita @hindustantimes.com