HIV/AIDS in Workplace is Real. Here’s How HR Can Help

November 29, 201912:44 pm426 views
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Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

HIV/AIDS Statistics 

According to the WHO and UNAIDS data, here are some fascinating facts about HIV and AIDS globally. 

  • 75 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 32 million people have died of HIV 
  • Globally, 37.9 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2018
  • Amongst 37.9 million people, 36.2 million were adults and 1.7 million were children aged <15 years old
  • Approximately 79 percent of people with HIV globally knew their HIV status in 2018. Meanwhile, the remaining 21 percent (about 8.1 million people) still need access to HIV testing services. Some others might have HIV but not know it
  • Africa region remains the most severely affected with nearly 1 in every 25 adults (3.9 percent) living with HIV and accounting for more than two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide 
  • UNAIDS’ goals of 2020 target that 90 percent of all people with HIV will know their HIV status and will be on ART. 

HIV in the workplace  

HIV pandemic has become one of the most critical workplace issues of our time. In addition to its devastating impact on working individuals as well as their families and dependents, HIV affects the world of work in many ways. 

According to ILO on HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS is a major threat to the world of work. It is affecting the most productive segment of the labour force and reducing earnings. HIV/AIDS at work can also impose huge costs on enterprises in all sectors through declining productivity, increasing labour costs and loss of skills and experience. Not only that, stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS threaten fundamental rights at work, undermining opportunities for people to obtain decent work and sustainable employment. 

See also: Putting Together a Short-Term Sickness Absenteeism Policy

Code of practice on HIV/AIDS 

There is no international labour Convention or Recommendation that specifically addresses the issue of HIV/AIDS in the workplace. There is, however, a large number of instruments that cover both protection against discrimination and prevention against infection that can be – and have been – used in this field, ILO stated. 

Avert stated that while there is no cure yet for HIV, antiretroviral treatment can control the virus so people with HIV can live longer with healthy lives. That said,  employees with HIV/AIDS in the workplace should be treated like other employees with serious illness/condition. This is necessary not only because it affects the workforce, but also because the workplace, being part of the local community, has a role to play in the wider struggle to limit the spread and effects of the epidemic. 

Employee awareness 

Although HIV/AIDS can be treated, common belief says the other way. Many people believe that HIV is a deadly virus that can be transmitted to others easily. Owing to this false perception, individuals stay away and/or limit contact with the valetudinarian. 

Such thing will only worsen the condition of the valetudinarian. Thus, the very first step for HR to help employees with HIV/AIDS is to improve employee awareness. Let your employees aware of how HIV is transmitted to hinder them from working or discriminating staff with HIV. 

HIV can be found in blood, semen, rectal fluids, and vaginal secretions. It can enter the body through tiny cuts or sores on the skin, the lining of the vagina, penis, rectum, or mouth. ILO warned that there are some ways HIV can be passed on to other individuals. 

  1. Through having anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV 
  2. Through sharing needles or drug paraphernalia such as cotton or water with someone who has HIV 
  3. Through being stuck with an HIV-contaminated needle or other sharp objects (this risk is greater for healthcare workers) 
  4. Through receiving a blood transfusion, blood products, or organ/tissue transplant that are contaminated with HIV 
  5. Through contact between broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes and HIV-infected blood or blood-contaminated body fluids 
  6. Through deep, open-mouth kissing if both partners have sore or bleeding gums and blood from HIV-positive partner 

Likewise, HIV can NOT be transmitted under normal workplace circumstances or by casual contact, such as shaking hands or sharing office equipment or tools.  HIV can also NOT be transmitted by the following points. 

  • Working alongside someone who is living with HIV and AIDS 
  • Sharing office equipment including telephones, keyboards, and machines 
  • Sharing restroom facilities such as toilets, urinals, or sinks with a person living with HIV and AIDS 
  • Sharing food or tableware 
  • Shaking hands, touching, hugging, or closed-mouth kissing someone living with HIV and AIDS 
  • Playing sports or exercising with someone living with HIV, even if the person is sweating 
  • For more information about HIV, you might want to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

See also: Presenteeism at Workplace: Why Do Employees Go to Work When Sick?

Tips for Human Resources (and other stakeholders) who work with infected employees  

Just like us, people living with HIV and AIDS want to continue to live and work to the fullest extent possible. If you are unsure of what to do when responding to a coworker living with HIV, the best advice is to maintain professionalism and respect. There are many ways to respond when learning a coworker is living with HIV and AIDS such as the following. 

  1. Be compassionate – try to empathise with the difficult circumstances and uncertainties that your coworkers are experiencing Be there to listen and help if needed. 
  2. Be supportive – extend your support just as you would to other employees. Include employees with HIV/AIDS in the same work and social activities as always, whenever possible. 
  3. Protect the right to privacy and confidentiality – it is illegal for you to tell other workers without the permission of the secret holders. Thus, if you hear a rumour, DON’T REPEAT IT. If the person with HIV tells you about his/her condition, Don’t pressure him/her with questions. 

Resources and contacts  

When you are still confused with the condition you encounter, especially about managing employees with HIV/AIDS, you can always consult other HR staff, health service in your area, legal advisor, or employee assistance program. Here are some useful contacts you can use to ask about and/or collaborate with to prevent HIV/AIDS in your company. 

Read also: Reducing the Costs of Employee Sick Days through Workplace Mental Health Training