This story was written by the ILO Newsroom For official ILO statements and speeches, please visit our “Statements and Speeches” section.

ILOAIDs programme

HIV and AIDS in India: Voluntary testing of workers reaches 1.3 million in five states

Recently released figures show the ILO’s programme of combatting HIV and AIDS through workplaces in India continues to deliver strong results.

Feature | 24 February 2016
NEW DELHI, India (ILO News) ‒ Between 2013-2015 the ILO’s voluntary testing at work initiative (VCT@Work) reached 1.3 million workers in the five Indian states in which it operates. Some 27,700 tested proved positive for HIV and were referred to post-test counselling and treatment.

For Syed Afsar, a senior technical specialist working for the ILOAIDS programme, the results are a vindication of the ILO’s long involvement in the issue in the country.

“India was our (ILOAIDS’) first on the ground collaboration. We’ve been working in India since 2000, strengthening the HIV and AIDS workplace policy environment and implementing action programmes in selected states and sectors. The programme has grown and continues to make a substantial difference to the national response through the workplaces,” he told ILO News.

In recent years ILOAIDS has concentrated its technical support in five Indian states: Delhi, Maharashtra, Jharkand, Madya Pradesh and West Bengal with a particular focus on scaling up HIV testing amongst workers. The ILO figures form a significant contribution to national testing programmes that reached nationwide some 4.8 million workers in the year 2014-2015, according to the national testing data.

Analysing test data for workers

“We noted that people’s occupations were being recorded in the national programme; and there was an opportunity to review this data, see the trends and use it for repositioning workplace programmes,” said Divya Verma, ILO National Programme Officer. In August 2014 the ILO met with the National AIDS Control Programme (NACO) of India and offered to assist in analysis of the national HIV testing data, conducted by the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTCs). The analysis was presented in national level workshops involving officers from State AIDS Societies by NACO and the ILO.

According to Dr Naresh Goel, Deputy Director General, NACO, such a study was considered “useful” as it would “help in prioritizing workplace interventions in India by prioritizing occupation/sectors that seem to show more sero-reactivity”.

“NACO welcomes the HIV testing initiative, particularly for migrant and informal economy workers. Evidence indicates that people migrate largely for employment and the major corridors of migration with India have been studied. It is imperative that these sectors are targeted for HIV intervention. It is also a strategy for early detection so that 90% of the estimated people living with HIV know their status,“ Goel added.

The data analysis, for two consecutive years from April 2013, allowed a preliminary look at trends and a better understanding of HIV infections by sector, state and gender. Most at risk were truck drivers, with HIV positivity of 2.65 per cent, other transport workers also had relatively high rates of infection, at 1.92 per cent.

Hotel workers (1.80 per cent) were the next most likely to be HIV positive. Relatively lower rates were found in semi-skilled and skilled workers (1.34 and 1.32 per cent respectively).

Male workers (1.69 per cent) were marginally more likely to be HIV positive than women (1.41 per cent), although third gender people had the highest positivity, with 4.4 per cent of the nearly 25 000 people in this group testing seropositive for HIV.

The ILO testing programme is part of its global Voluntary Counselling and Testing for workers (VCT@Work) initiative launched in 2013 in collaboration with UNAIDS. The programme relies on tripartite cooperation to effectively reach workers in the formal and informal economies.

India was one of the first countries to have taken up the initiative, involving the Ministry of Labour and Employment, NACO, Employers’ groups/ ILO corporate partners, trade unions and organizations of people living with HIV. ILO and NACO also developed a communication campaign called, “The Earlier, the Better,” involving people living with HIV who shared their testimonies stressing upon the benefits of knowing your status early.

Large corporations key to success

For Richard Howard, ILO regional specialist in HIV and AIDS, the “key” to success in India has been the active cooperation of large corporate groups. Companies like Coal India Limited, Bombay Electric Supply and Transport and Ambuja Cement have partnered with the ILO in opening up their workplaces for voluntary testing and counselling: “this has been a long term play; many of the employers are comfortable with this issue,” said Howard.

This does not come as a surprise as there are strong economic arguments to engage in HIV prevention.

“It emphasises the company's concern and dedication towards this cause... The motivation levels increase and the apprehension and stigma that surrounds an HIV positive case tend to decrease. The result is a congenial, positive and friendly atmosphere for the workmen transforming all this into better productivity”, said Dr Prakash Pokharna, Chief Medical Officer at Ambuja Cements Ltd.

Unions too, have been active in the field of HIV and AIDs awareness and prevention in India. From the outset the ILO has worked to support their programmes. “Since the very beginning of our activities, the ILO New Delhi Office had fully cooperated and extended its technical support, which included teaching personnel, study manual, pamphlets, fact sheets and teaching aids,” notes Dr B.K. Das of the Institute for Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Education.

The ILO anticipates the analysis by industry and occupation will better help state and national authorities to target prevention, testing and counselling programmes.

Syed Mohammed Baqar, HIV-AIDS Focal Point for the ILO in Delhi, told ILO News that the study gives state authorities new insights into the problem and potential solutions: “For example, HIV positivity in transport workers in Bihar is 3.3 per cent, for construction workers in Maharashtra the figure is 1.6 per cent. This difference gives state units of NACO an opportunity to think strategically for prevention activities for workers in these occupations.”