Remarks by ILO Director-General at the launch of a programme on voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing

Déclaration | Geneva | 6 juin 2013
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS
Minister Grégoire Owona – Minister of Labour and Social Security of the Cameroon
Luc Cortebeek- Spokesperson of the ILO Workers Group
Jacqueline Mugo - Representative of the ILO Employers Group
Françoise Ndayishimiye
Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear Friends,

Welcome to this important event.
Our presence here is testimony to the importance we attach to the issue of HIV and AIDS, human rights, inequalities and social exclusion.

We meet here in the common cause of social justice and decent work. Thank you for coming.

UNAIDS is a key partner in this initiative and we particularly appreciate the presence of Michel Sidibé,

The progress made after three decades of battling the HIV epidemic is both humbling and inspiring. Humbling because we cannot forget that over 30 million people have lost their lives to HIV since the epidemic began. Inspiring because together, we have made significant progress in achieving dramatic results in saving lives and preventing new infections

Despite these gains, I wish to caution against congratulating ourselves too early. We cannot slow down when the end is in sight. Yes, we have achieved good outcomes in the past but now is the time to intensify our efforts to complete the unfinished business – and undoubtedly we will have to be permanently vigilant.

Today UNAIDS reports that 7 million people are currently eligible for treatment but they are not accessing it. Fundamentally – and this is pertinent to why we are here today - the majority of them do not know their HIV status.

The workplace is an ideal entry point to generate a demand for, and increase access to, testing and treatment constituting an important avenue for achieving the 2011 UN Political Declaration Treatment Target of reaching 15 million people with HIV treatment by 2015.

Scaling up HIV testing has the potential of closing the gap in the treatment continuum. This is a critical step if we are to save many more lives and prevent t many more new infections. The earlier an individual is put on treatment, the better the health outcomes.

The VCT@WORK Initiative was conceptualized because the ILO and its constituents recognize the mobilizing force of tripartite commitment in facilitating access to HIV treatment services. The world of work is essentially made up of women and men of reproductive age and probably constitutes the largest population of people living with HIV globally. It is a pledge of our constituency to accelerate the HIV and AIDS response and facilitate increased access to treatment.

This Initiative aims to mobilize 5.0 million women and men workers to test for HIV by 2015. It will facilitate access to a variety of HIV testing services for workers including Voluntary Counselling and Testing, Self-Testing, and HIV testing as part of a general medical check-up. All such tests will be voluntary and conducted in conditions of confidentiality, consent and counselling.

Acknowledging the important synergy between reducing stigma and discrimination and enhancing the uptake of Voluntary Counselling and Testing in the workplace, the VCT@WORK Initiative is part of the Getting to Zero@Work Campaign which we launched on World AIDS Day last year.

Let me underscore that the VCT@WORK initiative is very much in keeping with the directions set out in the ILO’s Recommendation No. 200 concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work adopted in 2010. It is part of a coordinated approach comprising a number of interventions supported by the ILO, its constituents and partners rooted in Recommendation No. 200 and other relevant international labour standards.

Through advancing the rights of women and men workers the full potential of the VCT@WORK Initiative will be unlocked. The development and implementation of national social protection floors should also facilitate the uptake of antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV since income security and health care are complementary.

HIV Testing is a first step, a means to an end and not an end in itself. Critical partnerships will be forged with national authorities and civil society organizations to ensure that people who test positive and are eligible for treatment have access to life saving treatment. The positive relationship between employment and treatment is well documented. This effort will complement the UNAIDS and WHO Treatment initiatives.

The timing of this initiative is critical. With less than 1000 days to go to the MDG target date, our resolve must be to close the treatment deficit. As we count down towards December 2015, we must make each day count.

To kick-start the VCT@WORK Initiative, I undertook an HIV Test last week. I urge you all, especially those who have never taken the test to do so.

Today we send out a strong call: Test Now. Test Today.

Thank You