Workplace Interventions to Prevent HIV


I. Definition of the Prevention Area

Although the effects of HIV in the workplace differ by the size of the company/organization and the type of labor employed, for many companies and government employers HIV prevention efforts are essential to protecting an organization's productivity, profitability, economic growth, and efficiency. HIV in the workplace can lead to disruptions in production or internal processes as workers become ill, require time off for medical or care-giving purposes, or retire for medical reasons. Health care and insurance costs are also likely to rise if employees contract HIV. Existing evidence suggests that small and medium-sized companies experience a small average benefit as a result of their workplace programs.

II.  Epidemiological Justification for the Prevention Area

From a public health perspective, the workplace provides a ready audience of both males and females for prevention messages and increasingly for counseling, testing, and referrals for further services. Strengthening prevention efforts in the workplace targets groups who may be mobile as a result of work; these populations have been found to be at higher risk for HIV infection because they are away from their communities and families and have incomes that can be used to establish sexual relationships. Implementing workplace HIV interventions can help to influence norms, combat stigma, and foster a broader sense of community investment in public health. By prioritizing the health of their workers, large employers in particular can set a tone of community responsibility.

III. Core Programmatic Components

Workplace interventions vary according to the size of the workforce, and employment terms, but several core components can be identified.

IV.  Current Status of Implementation Experience

Many large and multinational companies have adopted workplace policies related to HIV and AIDS and have implemented complementary prevention awareness programs. Likewise, numerous government ministries, departments, and universities have adopted HIV and AIDS workplace policies to guide managers and to outline rights and responsibilities of employees. National, regional, and global business coalitions have been formed by the private sector and in collaboration with governments. They provide member companies with information on HIV and AIDS and advocate for expanded responses. Opportunities to engage small and medium-sized enterprises have been underexplored, due in part to the lack of organizations such as chambers of commerce that would bring the scale required.

The impact of the epidemic on private and public sector workforces has been documented in countries with high-level epidemics. Public sector institutions, such as schools and health facilities, have experienced significant labor losses, adding to the burden of service delivery in those areas. In countries or areas with low-level or concentrated epidemics the impact is far less intense. In those areas, few companies report significant losses in skilled labor or increased health care or insurance costs.

It is often expected that private sector firms will supplement public sector funding for HIV and AIDS programs, and this has occurred among some larger firms. However, more often, especially with the increase in contract labor arrangements, workers found to be or suspected to be HIV-infected are dismissed.

Unions and workers' representatives have helped organize workplace HIV and AIDS prevention programs and have added their influence to programs initiated by company managers. Although there are notable exceptions, unions have not made HIV and AIDS benefits a part of their contract negotiations.

What we know

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Putting it into practice

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Tools and Curricula

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Learn more

Business Coalitions Tackling AIDS: A Worldwide Review

Sidhu, I.K. World Economic Forum Global Health Initiative (2008).

This snapshot of four regional and 47 national business coalitions demonstrates their role as an accessible channel for the private sector to participate in a multi-sectoral response to HIV. It shares best practices and lessons learned as well as highlighting where coalitions need more donor, academic and international partner support. The report analyzes the different organizational models used and gives pointers to overcoming concerns about sustainability (put local needs at the forefront, engage stakeholders before launch, keep engaged with the private sector engagement, stay adaptable and foster in-house expertise). It concludes with a Business Coalitions Tackling AIDS Worldwide Directory.

View Report (PDF, 2.1 MB)

The ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work

International Labour Organization (2005).

This International Labour Organization Code of Practice provides guidelines for HIV policy development and practice at enterprise, community, regional, sectoral and national levels. It covers all employers and employees whether formal or informal, in both the public and private sectors, and can be used to promote dialogue among stakeholders. The code covers key principles and describes various means of prevention through information and education (e.g., awareness-raising campaigns, gender-specific programs, support for behavior change and community outreach programs), and has sections on training, testing and workplace care and support of people living with HIV.

View Report (PDF, 126 KB)

South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (SABCOHA)

South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (2010).

The South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS pilots HIV workplace initiatives and provides resources to equip private sector stakeholders to respond to HIV. Includes resources targeting businesses, including case studies and toolkits, frequently-updated links to media stories relevant to HIV in the workplace, and extensive links to related websites. A section on prevention, which highlights condom distribution, is featured.

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