Jul 21 2010
What if your own health situation kept you from helping others with the same health issues? What if your life experience and expertise prevented you from doing your job?
That’s the situation for many of my friends – friends who are HIV-positive and working in the global HIV/AIDS response.
These colleagues are well-established experts in HIV/AIDS, with first-hand experiences that they share to help strengthen the global effort. Yet, they often face hurdles in traveling to do their work due to visa restrictions in some countries for HIV positive people.
Welcome to the global HIV/AIDS situation in 2010.
I’m writing this from the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. Despite challenges like the one noted above, those of us here see signs of progress. These include the new U.S. National AIDS Strategy and the United Nations International Labor Organization recommendations – negotiated across governments, unions, and employers to address HIV/AIDS in the workplace.
We’ve also just witnessed the announcement of some amazing breakthroughs. The number of HIV infections is dropping, among young people especially, in the hardest hit countries. Women may soon be able to protect themselves from HIV infection by using a gel finally proven to cut HIV infection in half. And a record 5.2 million people are now on life saving drugs.
But even as I walk the conference halls, hearing about this progress, I’m also talking with HIV-positive colleagues on the front lines. Their first-hand experiences often say more than the slick PowerPoint presentations we’ve seen here.
Candid discussions with these peers remind me that even today, some three decades into this battle, discrimination at work continues for many who are HIV-positive. They must delicately manage access to treatment when job opportunities take them to different countries – because health and life insurance don’t necessarily follow. And obtaining mortgage insurance to secure their homes isn’t always possible. And, a significant number of human rights violations still regularly occur in the workforce when HIV positive individuals lose their jobs due to their HIV status.
The business community is applauded for our effort in contributing resources to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We walk in AIDS Walks, give in our communities and, yes, travel to conferences. But many of us wonder: Do we still need to do more to address HIV/AIDS with our employees?
The answer, to me, is a very clear yes. Addressing HIV/AIDS in the workplace is not a corporate social responsibility initiative or a charitable effort. It is a business imperative.
The first key step is to redouble our efforts to end stigma and discrimination in the workplace. The second is to work hard to improve access to information and HIV-related health services for those in need. And, the third is to work in partnership with others so that discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS comes to an end.
I’m fortunate to work for a company that strives to reach employees worldwide with much-needed education and access to HIV testing, treatment and care. Together with our local partners we prioritize learning from others and sharing best practices, all with the intention to scale up our effort to positively affect change. Our goal: that one day discriminatory practices and human rights violations will be a thing of the past.
What is so clear to me this week – in Vienna and around the world – is that we are all are unified by our desire to reach our full potential and perform to the best of our abilities – no matter our HIV status. And, whether we are working on HIV/AIDS or working with HIV/AIDS, in the end, we all want to work.
Posted By: Paurvi Bhatt, Senior Director, LS&Co. Strategic Health Initiatives
Tags: Social Responsibility
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