HIV and the workplace
Every day, eight Filipinos are infected with HIV [human immunodeficiency virus]. Just last September, 253 Filipinos were infected—the highest record of new HIV cases in the Philippines.
From 1984 to November 2011, the number of HIV cases in the country reached a total of 8,096.
Out of this number, 940 progressed into AIDS and 340 have died.
What is equally troubling is that more than half (57 per cent) of the newly infected cases in the country are in the young age range of 20-29 (DoH, September 2011) who can still make valuable contributions to society.
Tolerance vs. fear
A research study was conducted to understand people’s knowledge and attitude toward people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the workplace.
Data were gathered from 100 teachers in 10 schools of the National Capital Region and one school from Bataan province.
Results indicate that the respondents who have a higher knowledge level manifested a lower tendency to discriminate against PLHIV at the workplace, whereas those who have lower knowledge level have a higher tendency to discriminate against PLHIV.
People who had higher scores on HIV/AIDS knowledge demonstrated supportive attitudes: 1) allowing PLHIV to work in a company or any organization, 2) recommending PLHIV to work in one’s company or organization, and 3) working closely with a PLHIV.
In addition, they do not believe that PLHIV should bear the consequences of their behavior.
They feel strongly that people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHA) are also human beings who need care and help.
A number of them believed that some PLHAs could have been exposed to situations that made them vulnerable; therefore they must be understood and accepted.
They also expressed their concern over PLHIV and the stigma and discrimination that PLHIV may experience from co-workers who have misconceptions about HIV and AIDS.
With this, they suggest that organizations and companies should be made aware and educated about HIV/AIDS.
Furthermore, respondents who have positive attitude toward PLHA use valid knowledge when they speak in terms of safety and security.
They are confident that they will not contract the disease by working closely with PLHIV.
On the other hand, many of the respondents who were against of the idea of allowing PLHIV to work in organizations have fears of contracting HIV/AIDS and believed they could contract if they: 1) stay near with PLHA, 2) share a toilet with PLHA, and 3) share eating utensils with PLHA.
Even those who know that there is no possibility of contracting HIV while working closely with PLHIV are frightened that they might become exposed to situations that will make them vulnerable. Furthermore, they feel that PLHA have been careless and irresponsible for not using preventive measures and for having been involved in risky sexual activities.
They believe that most persons living with HIV and AIDS contracted HIV through inappropriate sexual behaviors.
They also believe that it is okay to refuse employment of PLHIV for the protection of other employees.
The incidence of HIV is rapidly increasing, especially among young professionals. However, HIV and AIDS are highly preventable.
The lack of knowledge about HIV suggests that it is important for employers to install effective HIV/AIDS prevention, awareness and education programs to avoid the spread of HIV in the workplace.
Republic Act 8504, enacted in 1998, mandates that all government and private employees should be given basic information and education on HIV and AIDS.
Integrated in the provisions are confidentiality, workplace discrimination, and proper attitude towards an employee living with HIV and AIDS.
Greater knowledge of HIV/AIDS may mitigate the fear that individuals have regarding the possibility of coming in contact with PLHIV and reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.
Employers could help change misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and spread the message that there is no need to fear working with people living with HIV. PLHIV can lead productive lives and contribute to society.
It is thus important to have clear organizational policies pertaining PLHIV’s employment and job security.
Anti-discrimination policies will allow PLHIV to assert their rightful status in the workplace while individuals who are not infected with HIV will have a deeper understanding and acceptance towards PLHIV at the workplace.
HIV/AIDS is not just a personal problem. Business communities and organizations can provide powerful and effective leadership in HIV and AIDS prevention and control.
But the time to take proactive actions is now.
(Mary Jane Balasi is an MA student in Applied Social Psychology from Ateneo de Manila University. The article was based on the research by the author with Fr. Joe Sanjay Ignatius, OFMCap under the mentorship of Dr. Mira Alexis Ofreneo. For inquiries or comments, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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