Russian business threatened by epidemic of hype

In an editorial in the Moscow Times, Daniel Kashnitsky argues that Russian businesses could see their edge in the international marketplace undermined by HIV. He cites a bunch of scary stats, intended to jolt business leaders out of their complacency. Russia has the highest number of HIV cases in Europe. (Well yes, but it also has the highest number of people in Europe.) “Only 12 percent of respondents said AIDS was negatively influencing their companies’ competitiveness”, he thunders. (Hmm. But fewer than one percent of Russian adults have HIV, and since most of those were infected in the last five years, most would still be healthy enough to do their jobs perfectly well).

Twelve percent seems like a lot to me, but then the companies that worry that AIDS is slashing their margins are most likely to respond to a survey by the Transatlantic Partners against AIDS and the Russian Managers Association about AIDS in the workplace. The 12% figure is even more surprising when you think about who’s infected in Russia: around 70% of infections are among drug injectors, and injectors are among the least likely to be working in the corporate sector.

Kashnitsky frets that most of the HIV prevention projects in Russia “are targeted at either students or other risk groups. Very few of them address the adult working population”. Russian bloggers lay the blame firmly at Putin’s feet, of course. But I say Hallelujah! For once, we’re doing the right thing. I appreciate Mr. Kashnitsky’s efforts to get managers all worked up about HIV, but this “HIV is everyone’s problem” approach is a costly distraction that has undermined successful prevention for years. In passing, he says that 74% of managers worry that alcohol is pickling productivity. Let businessmen worry about sobering up the workforce in Russia, and keep HIV prevention targeted at high risk groups where it belongs.

This post was published on 13/02/08 in Ideology and HIV, Money and AIDS, Science.

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