Health experts say HIV and Aids is different from other diseases because it strikes the most productive age groups and is essentially 100 percent fatal. As such, its impact on the economy cannot be ignored.
Economists also say the two major economic effects are a reduction in labour supply and increased costs.
HIV and Aids radio programming for the working class was difficult for Rhodes Msonkho, a youthful broadcaster for Capital FM in Blantyre.
But after attending training programmes his knowledge improved. Msonkho was until last year an ardent producer of Aids programmes funded by the National Aids Commission (NAC). Capital FM is party to the Malawi Business Coalition Against Aids (MBCA) after it got registered and drafted the HIV workplace policy in 2010.
â€œI had little knowledge on challenges that companies face in terms of low production due to the loss of employment and regular absenteeism. Through training, I learnt that effects vary according to the severity of the Aids epidemic and the structure of the national economies,â€ says Msonkho.
Most radio stations broadcast programmes on voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), how and when to start accessing ARVs and how to deal with peer pressure. MBCA and governmentsâ€™ Department of Nutrition and HIV and Aids believe that bridging the knowledge gap is vital in mitigating the spread of the disease.
â€œThere is need to deal with information gaps in the public and private spheres, hence programmes related to HIV and Aids. Our duty in the programme was to provide information to the public and working class,â€ he says.
Such programmes are meant to upset the Economic Impact of Aids in Malawi, a report authored by Policy Project, which shows that the number of new Aids cases shot from 64 260 in 1998 to 99 400 in 2005 and that it will be over 136 350 each year by 2015.
In his paper titled â€˜Effects of HIV and Aids in workplaces and economyâ€™, Par Toga Gayewea McIntosh observes that decisions made at the workplace constantly come under pressure due to the rising HIV and Aids epidemic that has engulfed Malawi and other African countries.
He says fall out of the decisions have grave consequences on what happens with the growth and profitability of companies.
â€œInferences are that the world of work has subsequently come under a major threat in two respects: financial consequences and the violation of basic rights of the infected and affected worker,â€ MacIntosh adds in the paper.
It is against this background that Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) established MBCA to speed up the fight against the epidemic.
The group has a list of annual paid up members whom it works with to ensure that HIV and Aids-related issues are addressed so that production levels and turnovers are not affected.
Communications officer for MBCA, Lyness Soko says the mandate of the institution is to coordinate and build capacity of the private sector.
She says MBCA has designed workplans aimed at building the capacity of paid up members from the private sector to take up the responsibility of HIV programming in their workplace.
â€œCompanies also form steering committee, that administer policies. Most companies now have clinics after an accreditation process so employees who are HIV positive get ARVs,â€ Soko says.
Research shows that MBCA has 63 clinics including private hospitals where most people in the private sector go for VCT or any other service to do with HIV and Aids. These clinics pay an administration fee of K500 to get registered by MBCA and benefit from the services.
â€œARVs are provided by the Ministry of Health to these clinics through donors such as the Global Fund. By December last year, we registered 84 companies. MBCA hopes to register more than 84 companies this year and the process is underway to achieve that,â€ Soko says.
She, however, admits that MBCA faces challenges such as reluctance by some companies to be members and introduce workplace policies on HIV and Aids.
â€œWe are also likely to have a challenge of having enough ARVs in stock with news that Malawi was not successful on its proposal to the Global Fund for ARV support,â€ she says.
However, former Secretary of Nutrition, HIV and Aids Mary Shawa said private and public sectors should not lose hope with failure by Malawi to secure funding for Round 10 from the Global Fund last year. The interview was done while Shawa was still Secretary of Nutrition, HIV and Aids.
She said Malawi has enough funds to take all HIV operations through to 2016.
â€œMalawi has $300 million left from the previous funding. The World Bank, Cedar from Canada, the Irish Republic and Usaid, including the World Food Programme, have all provided funding,â€ said Shawa.
According to her, the country is on track to reducing further the impact of the epidemic as evidenced by a reduction in the HIV prevalence rate from 14.4 percent to the current 10.6 percent.
â€œWe are encouraging companies and government departments to indulge in individual activities that would promote VCT,â€ Shawa said.
Private and public sectors are currently developing a financially sustainable plan to ensure continued projects in areas of HIV and Aids in the country in view of the donor fatigue.