Since it first became known four decades ago, there have been significant improvements in healthcare for people living with HIV. These improvements have allowed those impacted to better manage their health and get to a point where they feel able to work and support themselves. Studies show that being employed is associated with better mental health and physical health outcomes for people living with HIV. However, unemployment is a persistent problem among people living with HIV for a few reasons:
We spoke with Christian Hui to learn about how employers, colleagues and other stakeholders can better support those living with HIV to find and retain meaningful employment, and how we can support them in the workplace and beyond.
Hui has long been a passionate advocate for the HIV community. He describes himself as a settler living with HIV, and uses he/they pronouns. He completed both his Bachelor (‘16) and Master of Social Work (‘17) at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), and is currently completing his PhD in Policy Studies at TMU.
Using his lived experiences with HIV, social work background, and doctoral candidacy in policy studies, Hui is proposing the utilization of community led monitoring to evaluate Canadian programs and policies that impact those living with HIV.
A relatively new concept, community led monitoring provides an opportunity for those most impacted by government policies or programs being planned to have input on what evaluation criteria should be used for those policies. This allows these groups to hold the government accountable to its pledges and ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved.
Hui is also a Senior Global Community Advisor at Prevention Access Campaign, an international non-governemntal organization, which spearhead the international grassroots Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U) Campaign, and a co-founder of two independent networks of people living with HIV: Ontario Positive Asians and the Canadian Positive People Network.
Ending HIV Discrimination: U=U Campaign Empowers People Living with HIV to Succeed in Employment
The U=U campaign spreads awareness about this largely unknown fact: people living with HIV who are on treatment and have an undetectable viral load cannot sexually transmit HIV. The campaign was with the goal of ending the dual epidemics of HIV and HIV-related stigma by empowering people living with HIV with accurate and meaningful information about their social, sexual, and reproductive health. Many people living with HIV are capable of sustaining meaningful employment and accessing the benefits of employment, which not only increases their economic security, but also provides them with social connections and a greater sense of purpose.
The Employment Change and Health Outcomes Study (ECHO) Report found that employment improves physical and mental health among people living with HIV. Besides providing regular income, employment gives structure to the day, encourages regular contact with non-family members, and connects people to larger goals and encourages regular activity. However, employment discrimination is often the reality for many people living with HIV. Forty-two percent of participants who participated in the study reported experiencing employment-related discrimination, mostly on the basis of their HIV status, sexual orientation and/or ethnicity.
Inclusivity and Accessibility in the Workplace
Hui says if organizations want to be inclusive and accessible, they need to consider how to address the needs of those living with invisible disabilities. But first, it starts with more education, which can also help to reduce the stigma. Hui argues it is most important for organizations to have knowledge and training around HIV so they are able to revise their policies and ensure their HR team knows how to support people living with the chronic condition.
Hui also adds that HIV is often still considered a taboo topic, and is not talked about in the workplace, so people living with HIV feel they need to hide their status from their colleagues and can’t be their authentic selves at work. To help, organizations should be proactive in talking about HIV and raise awareness about it to help reduce stigma. This can help employees feel more comfortable disclosing their status.
Many people who are living with HIV may have also been out of the workforce for a period of time as well, and they need support to re-enter the workforce. Hui states that part-time opportunities or job-retraining initaitives are a great way to help those living with HIV ease back into the workforce. He also states that it can be helpful for them to job shadow others, as they may not even know what work they enjoy doing. Job shadowing is a great way to learn and figure out what works best for the individual.
Pride at Work Canada’s Module Aims to Create Welcoming Workplaces for People with HIV/AIDS
Hui mentioned that it is important for workplaces to have more education and knowledge about living with HIV so that they can revise their policies as needed to be more inclusive. He cites a module on HIV/AIDS in the workplace developed by Jade Pichette from Pride At Work as a great starting point for employers and businesses.
Pichette (they/them) is an inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA!) professional based in Tkarón:to/Toronto. Currently, Jade serves as the Director of Programs at Pride at Work Canada, where they work with over 250 large employers across Canada around gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation inclusion.
Pichette explains, “I developed a module on HIV/AIDS inclusion in the workplace. I wanted to bring up the discussion of HIV/AIDS inclusion at work as there is a fear among employers to address the topic. Few people feel safe enough to disclose their status at work, and many of those get to hear stigma and prejudicial comments towards people with HIV. So the module looked to bring employers into that discussion.”
“The module was available to all members of Pride at Work Canada, but a presentation can be purchased for a fee. The session will bring a greater understanding of how to build a welcoming workplace for people with HIV/AIDS, including changes that can be made to policies and processes,” Pichette adds.
If you are interested in purchasing the modules, you can email email@example.com.
Taking Action to Support Those Living With HIV/AIDS
Hui adds that organizations should partner with or support HIV non-profit organizations, who are doing important work in the community to support those living with HIV.
“A lot of times the challenges we face is that there is still a lot of stigma and lack of education around living with HIV and so few people talk about it, especially in the workplace,” says Hui. “It’s important to continue raising awareness and having these conversations, not just on World AIDS Day, but throughout the year.”
This helps to reduce the stigma and can help employees feel safe enough to disclose their status at work.
It is clear that living with HIV is an incredibly complex and often isolating experience. To ensure that those living with HIV are able to access quality healthcare and quality employment, it is essential that organizations work to eradicate the stigma associated with HIV, decolonize healthcare systems, and create more inclusive workplaces. Hui says this can be achieved by providing education and resources for employers, supporting HIV non-profit organizations, and having regular conversations around HIV both in and out of the workplace. Doing so will help create an environment of acceptance and understanding, helping those living with HIV feel safe enough to be their authentic selves.
If you would like to support the global U=U campaign, please consider making a donation to Prevention Access Campaign.