Employers have long known that HIV/AIDS is a major public health issue that heavily impacts people in their most productive employment years. Fortunately, HIV/AIDS no longer has to be a death sentence, as 68% of adults and 53% of children with HIV are receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapies (ART).1 However, more work needs to be done to ensure that everyone has access to effective treatments.
The numbers tell the story:
- 38 million people are living with HIV globally;
- Due to gaps in HIV services, 690,000 people died from HIV-related causes in 2019 and 1.7 million people were newly infected; and
- The vast majority of those newly infected are in their prime working years (15 – 49 years old).1
HIV and COVID-19
Those with underlying health conditions and compromised immune systems are considered vulnerable populations at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. However, from the limited data available, experts believe that those with HIV/AIDS do not appear to have a higher risk level for COVID-19 as long as the individual is on effective ART treatment and does not have low CD4 cell count (i.e., immune system is compromised).2
Significant progress has been made in how HIV/AIDS is managed. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled AIDS response, putting continued progress at risk for now.3 Seventy-four countries reported that they have or will have critically low stockpiles of ART drugs.3 Twenty-four countries with critically low stockpiles represent 33% of people taking ART globally.3
The reasons for this shortage include supplier challenges, shutdown of air and land transport and limited access to health services due to the pandemic.3 The World Health Organization (WHO) released guidance on how to safely maintain access to services during the pandemic.4
As awareness of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) grows, it is important to recognize that HIV/AIDS impacts minority groups more severely (see Figure 1), as they may not have equitable access to treatment options.5 While the virus affects all sexual orientations, it has a deep impact on the LGBTQ+ population.6
In many countries around the world, there are barriers to having HIV/AIDS covered under medical insurance. This in turn impacts people’s ability to gain access to treatment and stigmatizes getting tested in the first place.
What Employers Can Do
HIV/AIDS will continue to be a workforce priority for employers. They can do the following to not only promote health and well-being in their workforce, but also to be an influencer in the area of HIV/AIDS:
- Promote testing as part of preventive care.
- Reinforce the importance of routine care for those with HIV as part of chronic disease management, including talking with their doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a once- a-day pill that in concert with safer sex practices greatly reduces the transmission of HIV.
- Work with your company’s EDI team and employee resource groups (ERGs) to address health equity issues and specific communication needs.
- Reiterate the risk of delaying care, as the pandemic has caused some people to delay both preventive and routine care, which can have dire consequences.
- Address access gaps by reviewing your local health plans to determine if HIV/AIDS coverage is included. If not, the Business Group has developed negotiating tips on how companies can work with local insurers to add HIV/AIDS coverage to their company medical plans.
- 1 | HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet. World Health Organization. July 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hiv-aids. Accessed November 11, 2020.
- 2 | What to Know About HIV and COVID-19. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). July 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/hiv.html. Accessed November 11, 2020.
- 3 | Access to HIV Medicines Severely Impacted by COVID-19 as AIDS Response Stalls. World Health Organization. July 2020. https://www.who.int/news/item/06-07-2020-who-access-to-hiv-medicines-severely-impacted-by-covid-19-as-aids-response-stalls. Accessed November 16, 2020.
- 4 | Maintaining Essential Health Services: Operational Guidance for the COVID-19 Context Interim Guidance. June 2020. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-essential-health-services-2020.1. Accessed November 16, 2020.
- 5 | HIV/AIDS and African Americans: The Basics. Kaiser Family Foundation. February 2020. https://www.kff.org/hivaids/fact-sheet/black-americans-and-hivaids-the-basics/. Accessed November 18, 2020.
- 6 | How HIV Impacts LGBTQ People. Human Rights Campaign. February 2017. https://www.hrc.org/resources/hrc-issue-brief-hiv-aids-and-the-lgbt-community. Accessed November 18, 2020.