Workers who are HIV positive have a higher risk of workplace discrimination and being without a job, according to an article in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The most vulnerable, explains the report, are women and people who are less well educated.

The researchers looked at data on 478 HIV positive individuals in France (a nationally representative sample). They had all been diagnosed while they were in employment; it was also during the era of anti-retroviral treatments, which slow down the progression to AIDS. They were all asked about how they were treated at work, and also about the progression of their disease.

The 478 people, on average, had known about their diagnosis for about four years when they were interviewed. About 40% of them had progressed to AIDS or severe immune deficiency.

Here are some of the findings:

— 20 of them said they had been discriminated because of their HIV status

— 149 (about one third) had lost their jobs while still of working age. About one in three of them said their health had precipitated their job loss

— About one in five had been sacked

— About one in ten had not had their job contracts renewed

— Women with AIDS or severe immune deficiency had four times the risk of losing their jobs, compared to women with other less severe illnesses (not the case for men with AIDS or severe immune deficiency)

— Employees with lower education levels were much more likely to lose their jobs

People with long term illnesses and conditions can more successfully maintain their living standards if they are able to hold down a job, say the authors. Being in employment also helps people with long-term illnesses maintain both mental and physical health. However, it seems that disease severity and discrimination undermine employment opportunities.

“Disease severity, self reported experience of workplace discrimination and employment loss during the course of chronic HIV disease: differences according to gender and education”
Online First Occup Environ Med 2007; doi: 10.1136/oem.2007.034363

Written by: Christian Nordqvist