New UNAIDS policy on HIV and international labour migration

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Feature story

New UNAIDS policy on HIV and international labour migration

16 July 2008

20080716_migrants_200.jpg
Recent estimates indicate that 86 million
people across the world are international
labour migrants.
Photo: ILO/UNAIDS/H.J.Davis

Recent estimates indicate that 86 million people across the world are international labour migrants. Migrant workers bring huge benefits to their families and countries of origin through remittances – the sending of money home; and to their countries of destination by contributing to the workforce, economy and society in which they live. Yet at the same time, migrant workers face particular risks and vulnerabilities to HIV which must be addressed.

UNAIDS, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) have developed a policy brief focusing on the HIV-related needs and rights of international labour migrants, irrespective of their legal status and whether their stay in the destination country is short or long term.

HIV risk

Migrant workers often experience isolation and stress as a result of being separated from their families and communities, or perhaps having to deal with harsh working and living conditions. These factors can lead them to engage in behaviours which increase their risk of HIV, such as unsafe commercial or casual sex. Wives and partners of migrant workers who stay in their home countries may also be put at risk of HIV, for example if their husband returns home HIV positive. Yet businesses which employ migrant workers can and are doing things to alleviate some of these risks.

“We have made good progress towards providing family-friendly accommodation or housing allowances, so that migrant workers can bring their families with them if they wish,” notes Brian Brink and Edward Bickham of AngloAmerican, a global mining company with employees in countries hard hit by HIV such as South Africa.

International labour migration and people living with HIV

20080716_workers_200.jpg
Migrant workers, irrespective of their HIV
status, need to be able to access culturally
and linguistically appropriate HIV
programmes in origin, transit and destination
countries. Photo: ILO/UNAIDS/J.Maillard

International labour migrants who acquire HIV in transit or destination countries, or who are already living with HIV, often don’t have adequate access to HIV and health services. Migrant workers, irrespective of their HIV status, need to be able to access culturally and linguistically appropriate HIV programmes in origin, transit and destination countries.

Governments, civil society, businesses, employee organizations and international organizations all have a role to play in addressing HIV among migrant workers.

“Working abroad is full of challenges and threats – and one of the threats is HIV,” notes Nerissa Mercado of the Overseas Workers Welfare Agency in the Philippines. “We must help ensure our overseas Filipino workers come home with success stories and are HIV free; after all, their sacrifices help keep the economy afloat. We must likewise assist them if they do become HIV positive”.

Migration and human rights

More than 100 countries place restrictions on people living with HIV in entering or remaining in a country for any purpose, and international labour migrants may be refused entry or face deportation if they are found to be HIV positive. Where HIV testing occurs in the context of migration, internationally agreed standards on informed consent, confidentiality, counselling and referral to services are not routinely applied. Furthermore, international labour migrants receiving anti-retroviral treatment in the destination country may also have their treatment disrupted by deportation, if they do not have access to HIV and health services in their home countries.

International labour migrants, whether in regular or irregular status, should have the same human right to health as nationals. Respecting and promoting their health is essential for achieving national and international public health goals such as universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, as well as improving the productivity and economic independence of individuals and families.