Lost earnings attributable to HIV and AIDS as a result of either death or inability to work have declined significantly globally as countries scale up antiretroviral therapy. In 2005 HIV and AIDS were believed to have resulted in about $17bn in lost income, but the figure is projected to fall to $7.2bn in 2020.

A study released by the International Labour Organisation shows that the number of employees living with the virus and unable to work has fallen "dramatically" since 2005.

SA has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world — with more than 7-million people living with the virus in 2016 — and a stubbornly high rate of new infections. SA also has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme, which has increased life expectancy from 61 years in 2010 to 67 in 2015.

The study found that the number of workers living with HIV across the world had increased from 22.5-million in 2005 to 26.6-million in 2015 and was projected to rise to close to 30-million in 2020, despite the roll-out of antiretroviral therapy.

But the Employee Assistance Professionals Association’s Dr Dennis Cronson said there had been a great improvement in the effect of the virus on workers, especially in SA. "Hundreds of thousands of people are on ARVs and corporate managed programmes, and it’s a major success story …. the impact on productivity and other factors have improved," Cronson said.

He explained that in SA improved treatment and disease management had changed the lives of millions living with the virus, but stigmatisation remained an issue.

"People are still stigmatised, very scared to disclose their status and live in fear of being discovered by people in their lives and the workplace."