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A Business Interest in AIDS

October 18, 1987

Speaking in Chicago last week at a forum for business leaders, Dr. C. Everett Koop, the U.S. surgeon general, urged the executives to be informed about AIDS and to inform their employees about the disease, how it is spread, and, most important, "why AIDS is not contagious at the work site."

It's good advice, well directed, especially considering that most companies, despite being in an ideal position to educate large numbers of people, have been reluctant to accept their responsibility and the golden opportunity to do as Koop suggests.

The Orange County business community, slow as it was to respond to the need for more company involvement in the problems of substance abuse and AIDS in the workplace, woke up ahead of most of the nation. To their credit, a group of top business executives from major Orange County companies--led by Walter Gerken, chairman of the executive committee of Pacific Mutual--got together six months ago to teach employers how to conduct in-house education programs and to replace with facts the misinformation, myths and fears that employees and their families might be harboring about acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

One result of that session and the speedy action that followed by Pacific Mutual and the 20 other firms active in the Orange County Business Leadership Task Force on AIDS and Alcohol & Drug Abuse is the 64-page manual "Facilitating AIDS Education in the Work Environment." The manual, financed with $70,000 provided by Pacific Mutual, has already been distributed to more than 10,000 companies throughout California. Now, it's also available to the business community nationwide.

Koop has called the publication and the effort behind it an "outstanding example of private social responsibility that will benefit public and private sectors for many years." It is that. The existence of the manual is noteworthy. But existence is not enough. The guide must be used in the workplace to spread the message that despite the seriousness of AIDS, it cannot be transmitted or contracted in the work environment and it poses no threat to normal working relationships.

Unfortunately, despite the social and economic interests that companies have in controlling AIDS and substance abuse, most business firms still do not have formal policies for dealing with AIDS among their employees. In a recent survey of 100 of the Fortune 1000 companies, only 29 had such policies in existence. We suspect the percentage would be even less in a survey of smaller companies.

The new manual on AIDS education ought to help change that. With no cure or vaccine for AIDS in sight, the most effective approach to control its spread is education. More companies out of self-interest as well as community concern should be joining the battle against AIDS. A good way to start would be to call Pacific Financial Companies at (800) 544-3600 to get a free copy of the fact-filled manual, and then put it to use.

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