World AIDS Day - 1 December 2013

Message from ILO Director-General Guy Ryder on the occasion of World AIDS Day

Statement | Geneva | 29 November 2013

Today’s observance takes place against a backdrop of remarkable progress towards zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

New infections have fallen by 33 per cent since 2001, AIDS-related deaths have declined sharply (30 per cent since 2005) and more people than ever before (close to 10 million in low- and middle-income countries) are on lifesaving treatment. While these developments are extremely encouraging, we cannot forget that there are still more than 6,300 new infections a day, and, in a number of countries, the epidemic is spreading rather than diminishing while continuing to impose a particular burden on women and girls.

Rapid expansion of access to antiretroviral treatment is one of the most outstanding achievements yet such treatment is reaching only 34 per cent of the 28.6 million people eligible under the 2013 WHO treatment guidelines. The world of work is a major avenue for making further progress in closing the gap.

Employment is not only a right – it is part of the treatment."
With this in mind, on 6 June 2013 the world of work actors launched the VCT@WORK Initiative aimed at reaching 5 million workers with voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing and referral to treatment services when needed. According to UNAIDS, approximately half of the 35.3 million people living with HIV globally do not know their HIV status – the vast majority of whom are workers. Without knowledge of HIV status they are unable to seek and access lifesaving treatment and to prevent further infections. Significantly scaling up HIV testing is indispensable to realizing the global target of reaching 15 million people with HIV treatment by 2015.

The VCT@WORK Initiative is a bold rights-based global partnership targeting voluntary and confidential counselling, testing and access to treatment, involving governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, the private sector, the international community and civil society, including people living with HIV. Such action will help stop the epidemic in its tracks and reduce its impact.

The principles of the ILO’s HIV and AIDS Recommendation provide a solid foundation on which to build this rights-based initiative and create an enabling environment for HIV testing. It states that testing must be genuinely voluntary, that results should be kept confidential and that testing should not endanger access to jobs, the right to remain employed or be promoted.

The ILO’s engagement in the VCT@WORK Initiative is framed by our “Getting to Zero at Work” campaign, launched with the backing of the UNAIDS Secretariat and the UN Family. Over 200 leaders in different spheres have lent their voices to this campaign for urgent action to end workplace discrimination. Among them is Aung San Suu Kyi who recently stated: “Everyone has the right to live a dignified, healthy and productive life. People living with HIV must be allowed to work without any fear of discrimination. Getting to Zero should be the goal of every workplace.”

Today, I invite you to join the “Getting to Zero at Work” Campaign and to engage actively with the VCT@WORK Initiative.

Our report released for World AIDS Day shows that people living with HIV who are employed are on average 39 per cent more likely to persist with antiretroviral treatment than those who are unemployed. This is because employment assures access to food and financial security during treatment. With earned income and access to social protection benefits, workers are more resilient and can continue lifelong treatment. The message is clear: employment is not only a right – it is part of the treatment.

Let’s join forces – together we can get to zero.