Young people, including young workers, are presented with a vast array of smart options in their daily lives. Our phones are smart phones. Our TVs are smart TVs. Our watches are smart watches. But our LOVE needs to be SMART too.
Today, 35 million people live with HIV on all continents and in all regions of the world. More than half of them don’t know it and are likely to be sexually active.
While HIV has become one of the most critical workplace issues of our time, our offices, factories and businesses are also very effective spaces for reaching women and men with HIV services. This is essential because many people living with HIV are unaware of their status and show no symptoms.
This is a main reason the ILO, with support from UNAIDS, launched the VCT@WORK Initiative. Our idea is simple: to empower young women and men in the workplace with accurate and timely information about their HIV status, so that they can get treated if they test positive. Over 1,000,000 workers have been tested through this initiative so far.
Today, young workers are among those most likely to be infected by HIV worldwide. Young women are particularly at risk. UNAIDS has found that almost 60 per cent of all new HIV infections among young people occurred among young women. HIV is also the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, according to UNAIDS. This is not surprising considering the fact that young women are vulnerable due to biological, economic and other socio-cultural reasons.
However, the rapid expansion of antiretroviral therapy in recent years has allowed 8 million people living with HIV to access treatment – enabling them to live longer, healthier and more productive lives and remain part of the workforce. This is positive and inspiring and with the availability of treatment, no one should die from HIV.
Valentine’s Day is a time for love and romance. That makes it a good occasion to reflect on how we can protect the people we care about, and protect ourselves in the process, by being SMART:
S = Safer sex is vital. Always ask yourself if you are practicing safer sex? Use protection (ie, condoms).
M= Make no assumptions whatsoever. Many people do not know their HIV status. You may not know your HIV status, nor may your partner.
A= Always plan ahead. Do not get into a compromising situation only to remember you have no protection.
R = Responsibility is essential. You should be responsible for all your actions, don’t leave your destiny in someone’s hands.
T= Take the HIV test and encourage your partner to do so. You can love safely and you can love smartly also.
Love is not limited to Valentine’s Day. Similarly, this message is not limited to February 14. We can love and live in great health at the same time, if we love smartly.
Our families need us healthy and productive. Our communities need us healthy and productive. We can win this battle against HIV and AIDS.
Happy Valentine’s Day!