The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has reached about five million workers in its initial phase of Voluntary Counselling and Testing for workers; the VCT at WORK Initiative.
However, out of the three million workers earlier reached and tested of HIV between July 2013 and December 2015, over 85,000 of them were tested HIV positive.
The development, according to ILO, showed encouraging results; and demonstrated that workplaces were uniquely placed to reduce the HIV testing gap.
According to the ILO report issued ahead the International AIDS Conference in Durban, the ILO’s VCT and work initiative had reached close to five million workers with face to face education on the benefits of HIV and AIDS testing in its initial phase.
“Following the outreach, between July 2013 and December 2015, almost three million workers were HIV tested; and over 85,000 found HIV positive were referred for treatment,” the report revealed.
The ILO, UNAIDS and partners will be presenting the results of the initiative at several sessions during the AIDS conference in Durban, next week.
Welcoming the findings, Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder said: “For the first time, we have results that clearly demonstrate the impact of a workplace response to HIV and AIDS. When workers have timely knowledge of their HIV status, they can take the right treatment and continue to be healthy and productive members of the workforce.”
“The workplace offers a unique opportunity to expand HIV testing services,” he added.
The initiative, launched by the ILO and UNAIDS at the International Labour Conference in 2013, was implemented in 34 countries through strategic partnerships and alliances formed between the key world of work actors, the private sector, networks of people living with HIV and national AIDS programmes.
“This is the kind of innovation needed to reach people with HIV services in their everyday lives,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “This is the Fast-Track response in action – normalising testing and ensuring more people know their HIV status and are linked with local care and support.”
Around 60 per cent of the beneficiaries were men, confirming that workplaces have a huge potential to engage the male population, which is considered more difficult to reach with HIV information, testing, counselling and treatment.
Furthermore, 62 per cent of those reached with HIV information accessed HIV testing services. The figure demonstrates the efficacy of the communications effort on workplace behaviour change put in place by the ILO and its partners.
The success of the programme was aided by its implementation in workplaces which had a commitment to non-discrimination through HIV and AIDS workplace policy.
This approach made workers comfortable that they will not lose their jobs, irrespective of the results; and that they will receive all possible treatment, care and support in case they are HIV positive.
A strong communication strategy supported the initiative and the ILO’s Getting to Zero at Work campaign provided a solid basis for the implementation of the VCT@WORK Initiative.
Communicating ‘the benefits of testing early’ helped convince workers to take the HIV test. Similarly, involving business and union leaders as well as celebrities was also found to be very effective.
As it stands, close to half of the people living with HIV are not aware of their status.
Building on the programme’s initial success, the ILO plans to scale up the VCT@WORK initiative to help accelerate the global AIDS response over the next five years.
As such, it will be a significant contribution to the 90-90-90 targets as per the new UNAIDS strategy: 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression, by the year 2021.