Major companies are creating a wide variety of programs to help employees deal with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a report released today by The Conference Board, a global business research and membership organization.

The report finds that 82 percent of the 134 major firms surveyed have HIV/AIDS programs aimed at helping employees already suffering from the disease or at risk of infection.

The study is based on a survey of 134 leading health-benefits and HR executives, as well as in-depth interviews with directors of company HIV/AIDS programs and attorneys specializing in disability and HIV/AIDS law. The study builds on a 1997 report on the corporate response to this dilemma. It also draws on the experiences of companies whose operations in sub-Saharan Africa and other high-prevalence regions have put them on the disease’s front lines, according to The Conference Board.

More than two-thirds of the surveyed companies have been affected by HIV/AIDs, with one-fifth of these firms anticipating a growing impact of this epidemic over the next three years. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 67 percent of all adults and children suffering from HIV last year. The disease has yet to peak in most of southern Africa.

Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe/Central Asia are high-risk regions. Asia accounted for 14.5 percent of global HIV cases in 2007, and a 23.1 percent rise in the rate of the newly infected between 2001 and 2007. Latin America accounted for 4.8 percent of all cases and a 23.1 percent increase in new infections. Eastern Europe/Central Asia accounted for 4.8 percent of all cases, and a 34 percent hike in new infections.

Worldwide, the number of people living with HIV rose from 29 million in 2001 to 33.2 million in 2007. Forty percent of new cases are among individuals 15 to 24, the age at which employees are just entering the workforce. Companies feel the impact of HIV/AIDS in many ways, including greater absenteeism and turnover, and higher healthcare and insurance costs.

Some key findings of the study:

• More than 90 percent of firms plan to maintain or increase their spending on HIV/AIDS over the coming years.

• North America and Western/Central Europe account for 3.9 percent and 2.3 percent of all HIV cases, respectively, and experienced flat rates of new infections between 2001 and 2007.

• Regardless of location, respondents identified the following non-financial concerns as the top motivators for investing in HIV/AIDS related programs: social responsibility; creating and sustaining an inclusive environment for all employees; welfare of employees living with HIV/AIDS.

• Three-quarters of firms report some type of gain from their programs. Top gains include increased awareness of the risk factors associated with HIV/AIDS, decreased fears of becoming infected, increased worker morale, increased motivation and commitment, and decreased absenteeism.

• Corporate initiatives vary from education and prevention to counseling and treatment, depending on company priorities, industry and location.

For a copy of the report, email