Companies operating in fast-growth emerging economies face financial risks from the spread of HIV/AIDS, according to a new report, HIV/AIDS Beyond Africa: Managing the Financial Impacts

The report, produced by F&C Asset Management and the equity research department of UBS Investment Bank, notes that HIV/AIDS is still widely perceived to be an 'African problem'. However, it raises concern about the impact of rising HIV/AIDS infection rates in four of the fastest-growing emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China (the 'BRIC' group).

These countries cumulatively account for 42% of the global population and 8% of global GDP, according to the World Bank. They are also key market places for manufacturing and outsourcing and have become strategically important for many western multi-nationals.

The report states that while national HIV/AIDS prevalence rates appear low in countries such as China and India (0.2% in China and 0.4-1.3% in India), their huge populations mean that even small percentage increases represent significant numbers of infected people. Critically, seemingly low national prevalence levels mask the rising risks of severe epidemics in regional hot spots.

The report concludes that, as the disease spreads, the economics of prevention and treatment, as exemplified in South Africa, increasingly argue in favour of business self-help over reliance on public health authorities. In particular, the authors of the report make the following recommendations to companies operating in rapidly industrialising countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

- Assess HIV/AIDS prevalence and the host government's response to the disease in country risk assessments for new and existing investments.
- Determine actual and potential staff exposure through situation analysis, prevalence surveys and voluntary counselling and testing.
- Evaluate the costs and benefits associated with intervention programmes.

The authors believe that traditional accounting frameworks fail to capture the positive effect of successful intervention and instead propose a net present value (NPV) approach to valuing the impact of HIV/AIDS.

- Implement, where relevant, prevention, education, awareness, well-being and treatment programmes.
- Publish company-wide non-discriminatory policies relating to employees' HIV status and ensure senior management are accountable for such policies, to reduce the secrecy and social stigma surrounding the disease.
- Report publicly to shareholders and stakeholders how HIV/AIDS is being managed.
- Press host governments, international donors, multilateral organisations and NGOs to implement education, prevention and treatment policies, so as to boost the effectiveness of corporate efforts.