ILO and WHO co-developing guidelines on workplaces and HIV/AIDS

14 March 2005 ¦ The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are planning to hold a Tripartite Meeting of Experts to develop Joint ILO/WHO Guidelines on Health Services and HIV/AIDS. The meeting, which would last three calendar days, would be co-financed by ILO and WHO and be held in Geneva April 19-21, 2005.

Information Note on ILO/WHO meeting

Tripartite Meeting of Experts to Develop Joint ILO/WHO Guidelines on Health Services and HIV/AIDS


Health care is a considered a basic human right for all, and over 100 million health services workers are providing health care services to women, men and children worldwide. The provision of health services remains problematic, and substantial inefficiencies exist in the allocation of human, material and financial resources Increasing costs and structural adjustment policies have a negative impact on the employment and career prospects of health personnel.

In addition, difficult working conditions including stress, long hours, shift work and violence have resulted in skyrocketing health staff vacancy rates. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is an additional factor. The impact of HIV/AIDS often strikes hardest where health systems are weakest.

Systems that are already unable to cope are weakened further by health services HIV/AIDS deaths and disability amongst large numbers of health personnel. The health services sector has the unique feature of having a populations of workers who, in providing care to patients suffering form HIV/AIDS, are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of their professional responsibilities. They also face discrimination should they become infected.

At the same time, a larger, well trained health service population is needed precisely to help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and help provided care, treatment and support for those infected. A key impediment to the success of ARV treatment programs in Africa is the shortage of health care workers.

A specific approach is needed to address the different layers of HIV/AIDS issues facing the health services sector. In particular, clear and coherent policies should be developed that address the prevention of HIV/AIDS specifically among health care providers; the management and mitigation of the impact of the illness in the health services sector, and the reduction of stigma and discrimination faced by HIV/AIDS positive health care workers.

In consideration that the health sector is a major employer of women, in some cases up to 80% of all workers the guidelines should address the specific concerns of women in this sector.

Goals and objectives

Some specific objectives could include:

  • extend treatment, care and support to the health sector workplace through occupational health services as part of the efforts of scaling up access to treatment
  • promote Confidential Voluntary Counselling and Testing (CVCT) through "Know Your Status" campaigns - when individuals know their status they can live more healthily and take appropriate measure to prevent infection
  • establish/promote community out reach programs to extend treatment, care and support to worker's families
  • contribute to the management of the crises of orphans through combined efforts to maintain the health of parents and the incomes of families; and to prevent new HIV infections
  • provide social protection which includes access to social security, medical benefits, health insurance schemes and other decentralized insurance and income support schemes.


The goals of the proposed guidelines would be to harness the potential of the workplace, its structures and provisions, especially occupational health services where they exist, the mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on individuals and their families, on enterprises and employers, and on the wider community.

Prevention programmes would continue to have a high priority, and access to treatment and care would be viewed as part of the continuum that exists between prevention and care. The integration of prevention, the principle of non-discrimination, consultation and collaboration with workers and their representatives, community participation, and total management and political commitment are considered critical components to achieve these goals and objective.

These guidelines will be designed to provide component authorities, policy makers, employers' and workers' organizations and other social partners involved in the management of national health systems, with practical guidance in formulating and implementing appropriate mechanisms and tolls to improve on a continual basis the capacities of health care workers and systems as a whole to respond effectively to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a safe and decent working environment.

They may be used as a "Checklist" identifying all of the key elements and actions required for the establishment of a decent and safe work environment for health care workers that is also respectful of patients needs and rights.

Based on a collection of information, best practice and a collaborative effort of both the ILO (Sectoral Activities Department, ILOAIDS and SAFEWORK) and WHO (HIV/AIDS Department and the Occupational and Environmental Health Program), the two organizations would draft health sector specific guidelines on HIV/AIDS. This draft would then be circulated to member states for comment. A tripartite meeting of experts would discuss and adopt the draft Joint ILO/WHO Guidelines on Health Services and HIV/AIDS. The joint guidelines would then be translated, published in several languages and disseminated in 2005 by ILO and WHO, with social dialogue activities and training to promote their implementation at the country level.

Composition of the expert meeting

It is proposed that the meeting of experts would be attended by 15 participants: five experts nominated after consultation with the governments of five countries selected by the WHO and in agreement with the ILO, five experts nominated after consultation with the Employer's Group (ILO) and five experts nominated after consultation with the Worker's Group of the ILO Governing Body. An independent Chairperson, selected after consultation with the government of an additional country, would also be nominated.