The U.S. Department of Labor joins individuals and communities across the globe today in commemorating World AIDS Day. Held annually on Dec. 1, this is a time to remember the many lives we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS, assess our progress addressing the epidemic, and challenge ourselves to take the next steps toward an AIDS-free future.
It is also a time to reaffirm our commitment to facing HIV/AIDS today — by ending stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and ensuring that they have equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of community life, including employment.
Perhaps now more than ever, employment is an essential part of facing HIV/AIDS. Treatment advances have made entering, re-entering or remaining in the workforce viable for more and more people living with HIV/AIDS. Many already have, or are developing, valuable skills and have the desire and capability to use them in the workplace.
What’s more, research has shown potential health benefits associated with employment for people living with HIV/AIDS. That’s because work is a key social and structural determinant of health. For many of us, work is a fundamental part of life. It increases one’s ability to live a satisfying, productive and meaningful life. It also increases financial self-sufficiency and reduces reliance on publicly funded services. Thus, improving employment outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS benefits not only individuals, but society as a whole.
Reflecting this, the Labor Department is one of six federal agencies responsible for implementing President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy. And we in the Office of Disability Employment Policy are proud to represent the Labor Department in this effort. As part of our mission to advance employment for people with disabilities, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS have equal opportunity to build skills, find jobs and add to the diversity of our nation’s workforce.
These efforts also dovetail with broader initiatives to promote access in our society. For example, under the Affordable Care Act, people living with HIV/AIDS will gain more options for insurance and treatment. Critically, starting in 2014, it will be unlawful to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, including HIV. Furthermore, the HIV/AIDS Care Continuum Initiative launched this summer by the White House emphasizes the importance of keeping people living with HIV/AIDS engaged and retained in care, and employment can play a key role in reaching that goal.
Earlier this year, ODEP formalized an alliance with longtime partner the National Working Positive Coalition made up of a consortium of people committed to improving the financial and personal well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS—to build research findings and effective employment policies and practices. A former NWPC board member, Eric Ciasullo, really sums up the importance of this issue: “The first 15 years of the epidemic were about dying, first quickly, then a little more slowly, but it was all about dying,” he said. “The next five years were about not dying … It’s my hope and belief that this next era of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is about living, really learning to live fully, with HIV.”
Working is a part of living fully, and we at ODEP are committed to ensuring more people with HIV/AIDS have the opportunity to do so. But, as with everything, reaching this goal will take all of us —employers, service providers, community organizations and others — working together. Please join us in facing HIV/AIDS by promoting opportunity — today and every day.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.
As part of World AIDS Day this year, individuals and organizations are encouraged to participate in the Facing AIDS photo sharing initiative. To learn more, visit facing.aids.gov.