Two CUPE members are in Mexico City this week for the XVII International AIDS Conference. Here, Gerry Lavallee, co-chair of CUPE’s Pink Triangle Committee, shares some observations.
Today, I attended a workshop entitled HIV on the Job. This workshop really drove home the important role a union plays in protecting workers living with AIDS. A few key points from the workshop are below:
• The majority of the world’s 33 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide are workers. This includes workers in Canada. In the last 25 years, 25 million people have died of AIDS.
• Despite the world economic boom, most of the global population are not seeing their lives improve as a result. As well as significant unemployment, many are underemployed, or not paid for work performed. Poverty and inequality are escalating in many countries, increasing the burden and the risk of HIV infection on the most vulnerable: women, children and the poor.
• HIV/AIDS must be a priority for trade unions because unions protect the rights of people at work against stigma, discrimination, compulsory testing and dismissal. Programs that protect worker’s rights, promote prevention and access to treatment can reduce the spread of HIV and help mitigate its impact.
My second workshop was of particular interest in light of Health Minister Tony Clement’s recent gaffe at the conference. The Needle and the Damage Done: Addressing HIV among Injection Drug Users discussed harm reduction strategies for intravenous drug users.
• Harm reduction is a comprehensive public health and human rights approach that aims to reduce social, health and economic harms associated with substance abuse. It’s based on providing care, support and resources in a non-judgmental environment and avoiding further stigmatization of people who use drugs.
• Needle and syringe exchange programs have significantly reduced HIV transmission among people who us drugs. Contrary to what some may believe (including our very own Canadian Health Minister, Tony Clement), research from the World Health Organization shows that services like needle and syringe exchange programs as well as safe injection sites do no lead to or increase drug use in communities.
• Harm reduction services are essential to reducing the risk of HIV infection among people who use injection drugs. Sadly, they’re not readily available.