Supporting global staff in AIDS risk areas
There are many parts of the world where HIV/AIDS is rife, including those that are popular places to develop business
India has the third-largest HIV epidemic in the world. And in September 2018 China announced that the number of citizens living with HIV/AIDS increased by 14%, with more than 820,000 people infected.
It’s particularly important that employers developing their business abroad are aware of the situation and how they can support their staff. There are a number of steps they can take to do this.
Know the regulations
Always check the rules of a location before allowing staff to travel, particularly any regulations that affect people living with HIV/AIDS. Although only a few countries ban travel for people living with HIV some have entry restrictions for longer stays, especially when residency and work permits are involved. In the United Arab Emirates an HIV test is required for a work visa to be granted. Travel restrictions for people with HIV and AIDS can change quickly so they need to be monitored regularly.
Although contracting the disease through blood transfusions is very rare in the UK it is still a problem in developing countries. It can also be spread through sexual intercourse, from mother to baby before or during birth, or by breastfeeding.
Drug and alcohol dependency can sometimes be an issue for those working overseas, so employers need to ensure their staff know that it can also be spread by sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment.
Awareness programmes to educate the public about HIV/AIDS is the most important method to stop the spread of the disease. There has been tremendous progress made in controlling the number of HIV patients, with 19.5 million people now receiving life-saving treatment in the form of anti-retroviral drugs.
But nearly a million people still die every year from the virus because they don’t know they have HIV and are not on treatment, or they commence treatment too late, so early treatment is paramount.
Offer international healthcare
A lot of international healthcare policies include cover for HIV/AIDS. Employers need to check that the policies they have (or are considering) include such cover, and to also understand what the cover offers in practice.
For example, health cover can be set up on a medical history disregarded basis, which will mean that even if employees have HIV/AIDS before the cover is put in place they can still receive treatment for it.
Some providers offer very specific support to prevent the spread of the disease. For example, some will arrange blood screening before an employee has a blood transfusion. If this hasn’t been possible, for instance if it was required in an emergency, they can arrange tests to see if the disease has been contracted so they can organise early treatment.
Mental health support can play an important role in preventing HIV/AIDS by decreasing dependency on drugs. But it can also play a crucial role if people are affected by the disease.
Global employee assistance programmes are available that provide 24/7 access to experts that have firsthand experience of working abroad and can offer much-needed support for those that can otherwise be quite isolated.
The disease is very treatable and no longer so expensive to control, but the global number of new infections among adults has remained static. Employers have a role in prevention and providing support, and this starts with understanding the situation and knowing what help is available.
Sarah Dennis is head of international at Towergate Health & Protection