ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME: A SMALL BUSINESS DILEMMA
The AIDS virus continues to infect tens of thousands and wreak havoc on untold lives throughout the world. The U.S. Public Health Service estimates that 54,000 Americans will die from AIDS in 1991. This is nearly as many as were killed in the entire Vietnam War (New York Times 1987, Philadelphia Inquirer 1987). A largely overlooked aspect of the disease is the potentially devastating effect on small businesses. The vast majority of literature in both popular and professional journals concentrates on the technical aspects of the disease and promotes compassion, support, and understanding for the victims. Those articles targeted toward AIDS in the workplace also reflect this orientations. There is a void in the literature concerning the impact of AIDS on small businesses.
What type of problems will small business owners and managers encounter because of AIDS? What is the financial impact of these potential problems? Are small business owners aware of the dimensions of possible future problems associated with AIDS-infected employees? What actions toward formulating necessary policies to deal with the problem have businesses implemented? This article explores these and other questions concerning the impact of AIDS on small businesses. The article first presents an informative background on the disease itself. Second, AIDS in the business environment is discussed, and the potential problems for small businesses are presented. Third, a research study concerning the impact of AIDS on small businesses in the southeastern United States is presented. Last, a list of recommendations for small businesses is made.
AIDS: THE DISEASE
Medical researchers have thus far identified four HTLV viruses. One, HTLV III, is known to manifest itself in what we commonly consider as AIDS (which is usually referred to as HIV, for Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Medical prognosis is still out on HTLV IV, currently found only in Africa.
AIDS is generally considered to be 100 percent fatal. However, unlike influenza and most infections, AIDS will not resolve itself by killing off the vulnerable and the elderly, as the young and healthy develop immunity to it. Moreover, AIDS is not self-limiting. It is a delusion to think that AIDS is confined to homosexual men and intravenous drug users. The AIDS population now includes individuals who were sexually active with gays or drug users, individuals who received blood transfusions before blood banks began testing for the virus, and a small group for whom transmission cannot be explained (Day 1988). There are also other populations at risk, such as health care workers.
Society can reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus through behavior modification while scientists continue to search for a cure. Each new piece of information adds to what we know about the disease and helps define the potential for defining the population at risk and the mediums for transmission. Since 1979, the Center for Disease Control has modified the definition of AIDS at least three times, an indication that scientists keep discovering new and important information.
There is considerable conflicting information published on the future prevalence of the disease, and the means of transmission. Estimates range from 73,000 diagnosed AIDS cases in 1991 by the National Center for Health Services Research and Health Care Technology Assessment to a forecast by Industry Week of 279,000 (Pascal 1987). Among forecasters there appears to be a vast difference in the assumptions concerning the transmission of the disease over the next several years. The Center for Disease Control and most Public Health officials have almost universally agreed that AIDS cannot be transmitted through casual contact. Their advertisements, for example, state there is no medical evidence that AIDS can be transmitted through contact with an infected food handler or through saliva. …