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AIDS business. AIDS treatment and prevention programs are good business, according to a recent study by faculty members of the School of Public Health’s Center for International Health and Development (CIHD). They included Jonathan Simon, an associate professor and CIHD director, William MacLeod and Sydney Rosen, both assistant professors, Donald M. Thea, a professor, and statistical programmer Matthew Fox. Jeffrey R. Vincent of the University of California, San Diego, also participated in the study.

The researchers calculated the financial impact of the AIDS epidemic on six corporations operating in South Africa and Botswana -- a cost they termed the “AIDS tax. The calculation included direct costs for individual employees affected by AIDS, such as medical care, benefits payments, and recruitment and training of replacement workers. They also calculated indirect costs stemming from poorer performance of the affected employee when at work, increases in absenteeism, the time a supervisor must spend dealing with a sick or absent employee, the vacancy until a replacement is hired, and reduced productivity while the replacement learns the job. The study also identified, but did not measure, a set of organization-wide costs arising from having multiple employees affected by HIV/AIDS at the same time. These ranged from increasing insurance premiums, accidents because of ill workers and inexperienced replacement workers, and the cost of litigation over benefits and other issues to demands on senior managers’ time, production disruptions, depressed morale, and deterioration of labor relations.

The authors found that the AIDS tax increased wage and salary costs by as much at 6 percent, even without taking into account the unmeasured organizational costs. They concluded that if the six companies in the study provided care and treatment, including antiretroviral drugs, at no cost to employees with HIV/AIDS, they could reduce their AIDS tax by as much as 40 percent, earning positive returns on their investment. A greater investment in HIV prevention programs would likewise have a positive return.

The study was published in the February issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Bored students gear -- and light -- up. Camel caps, Marlboro jackets, Virginia Slims T-shirts -- adolescents sporting such tobacco promotional items are more likely to find cigarette advertising attractive, and ultimately more likely to start smoking, than are their classmates. And according to a new study by Alison Albers, a senior research fellow in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the School of Public Health, these students are also more apt to find school a bore.

Albers and Lois Beiner, a researcher at the Center for Survey Research at UMass-Boston, surveyed students (ages 12 to 15) in 1993 to assess levels of such psychosocial factors as depression, rebelliousness, body dissatisfaction, and academic disengagement -- factors that they thought might be related to the adoption of cigarette smoking. They reinterviewed the students from 1997 to 1998 to determine whether or not they had acquired a tobacco promotional item in the interim.

The researchers found that lack of interest in school was the only factor among those tested that was significantly related to owning a tobacco promotional item. Furthermore, those who had such a promotional item were four times more likely to have established a smoking habit than those who did not.

“The messages conveyed by advertising images are precisely those that would appeal to young people,” say the study’s authors, “that is, images suggesting that smokers are attractive to the opposite sex, adventurous, popular, risk-taking, and independent. They believe that wearing a T-shirt with a Marlboro logo offers them a particular kind of identity.”

The researchers suggest that parents be aware of their children’s need to define themselves -- to be involved in a group they can feel comfortable with. Finding ways for adolescents to be more engaged at school, they say, both in class and in organized after-school activities, may be an effective smoking-prevention strategy.

This study appeared in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
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