Living with HIV: public knowledge must catch up with science

Workers in offices at dusk.

Workers in offices at dusk.

Let’s begin with a few questions about living with HIV. Did you know that people living with HIV can have a normal life span if diagnosed and treated on time? That there is no job which someone can’t do specifically because they have HIV? That treatment can mean that people living with HIV are no longer infectious? Or that men and women living with HIV can become parents of an HIV-free baby?

I hope you did, but the fact that many people do not helps explain why people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination at work.

There is much to celebrate about the progress made in the last 30 years since the first cases of HIV. The discovery of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the late 1990s means that people living with HIV can have active and fulfilling lives, a career and a family. But public knowledge and understanding has lagged behind, and this can lead to negative attitudes based on fear and misunderstanding.

Take the example of Simon, who found HIV-related graffiti on his personal things in the office, or Jack who, when he disclosed his status, had to go through a gruelling internal process: “They believed my HIV called into question my fitness to practice and took eight months to investigate…. They told me that it was standard procedure, had nothing to do with my HIV status, but obviously I spoke to colleagues who made health declarations and none of them had the same issues.”

It’s important to stress that many people have a very good experience when they disclose their HIV status at work. But not everyone does. And with last week’s statistics from Public Health England showing there are 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, employers need to take steps to make their employees HIV aware. In fact, research carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the National Aids Trust (NAT) found that people felt less comfortable with the idea of working with a colleague who had HIV in 2010 than when the survey was previously conducted in 2007.

What can employers do to change this? The recent National HIV Testing week and World Aids Day presents ideal opportunities to raise awareness at work about the reality of living with HIV in the UK in the 21st century. Visit www.HIVaware.org.uk for ideas about how to do this and to access its handy factsheet. The NAT website also has advice for employers about how to support people living with HIV in the workplace and during the recruitment process.

Equality legislation exists to protect people living with HIV at work, should they need it. But it shouldn’t have to come to this. With a little effort, business can help make sure that social progress catches up with scientific advancements, leaving people living with HIV to get on with their jobs.

Via Guardian Sustainable Business (Link)
Author: Eleanor Briggs, assistant director of policy and campaigns at NAT.

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