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December 1st is World Aids Day

Presents an opportunity for employees and employers to raise awareness about the HIV / AIDS pandemic and the stigma and discrimination attached to the disease in 2022. While HIV / Aids have undoubtedly been over-shadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, the widespread effects of HIV / Aids are still equally widely felt across the globe by those who have lost loved ones to the disease and by those living with HIV / Aids. Many are still struggling with the effects of the illness because of the stigma attached to the disease.

While Covid-19 and HIV are both viruses which have afflicted the global community, there are some noticeable differences between them, the most significant being that there is very little, if any, stigma attached when a person becomes infected by the Coronavirus. Methods of transmission of each virus are significantly different, with Covid being airborne, making almost any individual a potential target of the disease, while HIV is either sexually transmitted or via blood transfusions and has a limited range of exposure. This difference in transmission is the fundamental cause of the stigma attached to HIV.

South Africa has been fighting the disease relentlessly for decades as the virus has ravaged particularly vulnerable communities within the larger South African ecosystem and as part of the ongoing pursuit to create a country without discrimination. To this end, HIV / Aids is included in the Employment Equity Act as one of the grounds that the government identifies that a person may not be discriminated against. This therefore brings the topic of combatting discrimination against those with HIV / Aids squarely into the workplace domain, especially for designated employers who are legally required to adhere to requirements of the Act.

While Covid-19 has taken centre stage of late, the physical and emotional effects of HIV and Aids continue to afflict carriers of the virus in sinister ways. Anyone who has fallen victim to harassment or discrimination, whether because of a stigma or other, may experience residual side effects inflicting ongoing damage to the psyche. Where a stigma exists, the individual is negatively labelled as the result of unfair and unwarranted perceptions held by another. Stigma may stem from deep-seated beliefs by the holder that something or someone is innately wrong, immoral and contrary to what they value as good and correct, which is part of what makes a stigma so insidious.

Discrimination and harassment based on one person’s perception of another person or group due to their race, gender, culture, age, religion and belief (and more) are unacceptable and can land the perpetrator in difficulty with the law. Companies which are not designated in terms of the Employment Equity Act are still urged to remain mindful of this and ensure that they put policies in place that prevent discrimination of any element, in the workplace. Discrimination can lead to mental health issues and poor work performance and can even be a factor leading to poor health and safety which, if left unaddressed, can be harmful to the employee and work performance, cause absenteeism and is generally unproductive for all involved.