Mark Makepeace: My business week

The chief executive of FTSE Group, on why business must join the fight against Aids
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World Aids Day was an important time for reflection on the enormous toll that the epidemic is taking. For businesses, one of the most serious concerns is the devastating impact on the global workforce.

Of the 33.2 million people worldwide living with HIV today, the vast majority are adults in the prime of their working lives. This clearly has a big effect, not just on victims and their families, but on businesses and economies.

This year alone, 2.1 million people have died of Aids three-quarters of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where the impact on economic growth is severely hampering efforts to create new jobs and to reduce poverty.

Last year, I accompanied senior executives from British Airways and Manchester United Football Club to Zambia to see how Unicef helps children and young people affected by HIV. I was appalled to learn that life expectancy there is just 37 years.

For global companies, joining the fight against HIV is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense. Businesses are run for profit, but profit has to be sustainable. Business leaders need to ensure that their employees and the communities in which they work can endure.

Preventing HIV-positive mothers from passing on the virus to their babies is a crucial step towards a future HIV-free generation (and workforce). FTSE Group has recently started funding a Unicef project in Mozambique to help more women get the treatment they need. The antiretroviral medicine for a mother and baby at birth costs as little as 68p. Yet a baby is born with HIV almost every minute of every day because 90 per cent of women in poor countries don't have access to that treatment.

It is estimated that 700m is needed to ensure all HIV-positive women in the world can get the treatment by 2010. We can all do our bit.