In conjunction with the 2012 International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), which begins this week in Washington, D.C., the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the AFL-CIO will host a one-day forum July 21 on unions’ role in combating HIV/AIDS, with a particular focus on improving social protection and raising awareness among youth and young workers.

The forum will highlight ideas and examples of worker-driven HIV/AIDS programs from around the world, including Brazil, Nigeria, and South Africa. The outcome will be critical to developing future union interventions and asserting the key role of workplace strategies at the conference, which will bring together international experts, policymakers, health workers, and those living with HIV to assess what needs to be done to continue the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The Solidarity Center will join the ITUC, the AFL-CIO, and international union representatives at AIDS 2012 to actively promote workers’ role.

Despite the enormous amount of work and resources committed stopping the spread of HIV and caring for those living with HIV/AIDS, this terrible epidemic continues around the world. According to UNAIDS, 1.8 million people died of AIDS-related illness in 2010.

Today, 34 million people live with HIV, nearly two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Close to 90 percent are workers, engaged in economically productive activity that sustains them and, by extension, their families and communities. For many workers, a positive HIV test result is devastating. HIV-positive workers are stigmatized, fired, or rejected for hiring opportunities because of their status. The continued high cost of treatment and care is too high a hurdle for workers who live on the precarious line between poverty and the middle class. Workers, communities, and companies all lose when workers become ill or are lost to AIDS.

That is why any comprehensive strategy to address HIV/AIDS must include workplace-level interventions aimed at educating workers about HIV/AIDS and supporting those living and working with the virus. Unions have a wealth of experience, both in advocating for the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS and in developing workplace education programs. The Solidarity Center has worked closely with international partners to develop HIV/AIDS actions around the world, particularly in Africa, where the epidemic has been most devastating.

“Workers need to be part of any strategy to combat HIV/AIDS,” said Imani Countess, the Solidarity Center’s Africa regional program director. “Our work has shown that union-driven workplace HIV/AIDS programs are likely to be utilized because union projects create a space for workers to access testing and services in a trusted and confidential way that protects their employment status.”

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