More than 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, and it is estimated that 26 million of these are workers aged 15-49 – the prime of their employable years. As such, the impetus is on workplaces in affected countries to action wellbeing programmes for their people.
Apart from the obvious – and absolutely paramount – moral and human incentive of encouraging testing and providing treatment, the benefits of workplace testing can have a ripple effect: bettering not only the lives of those infected, but their families, co-workers and the population at large. The strength of a prevention programme is important to prevent new cases from occurring. Research has shown that continuous gender inequality and poor knowledge on sexual and reproductive health, certainly among adolescents, feeds the spread of the virus.
All parties – from employers to co-workers – benefit when infected parties are detected as early as possible and provided with the correct treatment to allow them to survive. It is now well established that a correctly treated person living with HIV has a much lesser chance of transmitting the infection to his or her partner.
But there is a psychological dimension here, too. Effective treatment programmes are necessary not only to protect those affected, but also to maintain morale among staff members. At the end of the 20th century, colleagues would become ill and eventually die due to the uncontrolled infection. The perceived lack of control, emotional strain, and negative external signalling is demoralising and can inculcate learned helplessness in our teams. Even if HIV is not directly affecting our own health, it is having a huge impact on our daily lives.
This is why employees and their managers have such a crucial role to play, as advocates to encourage testing and treatment among their peers. It does appear that fear of stigmatisation is still strong and stopping people from getting an HIV test. Stigma might even exist in a company that has pledged and maintained over more than 20 years the promise not to discriminate.
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