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Dire problems

Published:Monday | December 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer

As the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS (JABCHA) fine-tunes plans to set up a national foundation for HIV/AIDS, its executive director, Earl Moore, has warned that the country's business sector is in for big trouble if companies continue to undermine initiatives to tackle the infection.

At the same time, Moore has lamented the unwillingness of insurance companies to provide coverage for people living with HIV/AIDS, saying that persons living with the infection are outliving others with chronic diseases who are receiving coverage.

Moore, former president of Guardian Life Ltd, a powerful insurance company, has called on insurance companies to revisit their policies on HIV/AIDS.

Stigma and discrimination

Addressing business leaders at the organisation's annual fund-raising dinner on Friday, Moore warned business leaders that without an HIV workplace policy, perpetuating myths and HIV-related stigma and discrimination within the workplace will prove costly in the long run.

"The economic impact on your business will be huge. The AIDS epidemic can undermine enterprise development through cutting the supply of labour and skills, increase business cost, disrupt production, and discourage investment and demand," Moore said.

He also added that the combined reduction in profitability could have a ripple effect on the national economy. "These combined costs reduce profitability with a direct impact on the national economy."

The executive director noted that while Jamaica is yet to conduct a study on the impact of HIV/AIDS on its own economy, a study carried out by Harvard School of Public Health and UNAIDS has pinpointed the seriousness of the epidemic.

According to Moore, the study revealed that over 16 per cent of the nearly 9000 business leaders surveyed from 104 countries judged AIDS as a serious business threat. He noted that the survey shows a whopping 67 per cent of respondents expect some impact of HIV and AIDS on their company in the next five years.

"Enterprises report increases in absenteeism, and in the cost of recruitment and training because of the epidemic," Moore said.

Dire consequences

In calling on local businesses to lend greater support to the fight against HIV/AIDS, Moore said the country could face dire consequences if they fail to respond.

"Currently, the national HIV response is being funded largely by global donors to the tune of US$80 million which the current global financial crisis may force global donors to reduce their funding for which their contract expires in 2014," he said.

"It is against this background that JABCHA is leading this private sector initiative through the esta-blishment of the JABCHA National Foundation for HIV/AIDS to realise one billion dollars. This, we believe, will ensure the financial sustainability of the National HIV/STI programme."