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Breaking Boundaries: Healthcare Workers with HIV and Clinical Practice

Updated: Jan 30



A girl receiving her vaccine shot by HIV healthcare workers in Africa.

Image Credit: Devex


Summary

The article is aimed to highlight the importance of an inclusive approach in dealing with healthcare workers who are affected by HIV. It emphasizes promoting safety measures without discriminating against healthcare workers. 


Introduction

In the global fight against HIV, since long the disease has managed to conquer the globe, infiltrating the minds of people with fear, ignorance, and stigma. Since its discovery in 1983 and the following epidemic in the USA, these fears have only managed to intensify. However, recently, several strides have been made, aiming to formulate policies to reduce the ‘social’ stigma. Despite the vigorous outreach programs introduced across all platforms, one aspect that is not talked about enough is the impact on healthcare workers affected by HIV. This article explores the landscape regarding HIV policies, emphasizing the need for inclusivity, understanding, and approaches to ensure the well-being of healthcare workers and the safety of their patients.


Introduction: Global Policies on Healthcare Workers with HIV

Internationally, policies regarding healthcare workers with HIV differ. While there is diversity in the approaches adopted by countries, some nations still lack in making specific policies. Many nations, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and several European nations have embraced policies that prioritise the rights and confidentiality of healthcare professionals living with HIV to prevent any discriminatory act they might face from their co-workers or patients they might treat. Some, however, still grapple with outdated fears, leading to more restrictive measures. An example of such an outdated fear related to AIDS could be the archaic belief that the virus can be easily transmitted through casual interactions such as non-sexual contact and talking. This has led to discrimination against people afflicted with AIDS, leading to unnecessary isolation from society.

Though India has made efforts in protecting the rights of individuals with HIV specific policies regarding healthcare workers in the country are currently lacking.


Patient Safety and Healthcare workers 

While there are no specific policies in India regarding the said topic, we must approach this issue with inclusivity, understanding, and reliance on scientific advancements. There is a need to understand that the absence of specific policies in India can result in discrimination if colleagues and patients lack understanding. It feeds into the HIV-related stigma which can obstruct open discussions and create a hostile work environment. Safety concerns can also arise without foolproof measures. And lastly, Legal uncertainties may affect employment decisions and lead to disputes.


This article promotes specific restrictions that should be placed on clinical practice for Healthcare workers for the safety of their patients as well as for a specific policy to safeguard the interest of both the healthcare worker and the patients. But instead of fostering stigmas and misconceptions, we need safety measures that empower healthcare workers with HIV without discrimination.


Embracing Scientific Progress and Education

It is important to know that with recent scientific progress, like the introduction of Antiretroviral therapy with proper treatment, HIV can be reduced into a manageable chronic illness instead of a life-threatening disease. Those following proper treatment can achieve undetectable viral loads, significantly lowering transmission risks. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a novel therapy that uses a combination of antiviral medications used to treat HIV. They inhibit the replication of the virus, helping to control the viral load. Since its introduction, ART has gained rapid popularity due to its efficacious effect in controlling the viral spread. 


Furthermore, ongoing research in the field is ongoing which explores new treatment options, including gene therapies, which could provide more effective options for managing HIV.

Recognizing these advancements is essential to dissolve fears in the patient and colleagues and promote acceptance within the healthcare community.

Education is key to ensuring the acceptance of healthcare workers with HIV and maximising the safety of patients. Comprehensive training programs should be implemented to educate all healthcare staff regardless of their HIV on maximizing preventive strategies to eliminate the risk of transmission to their patients. This includes education on minimizing the risk of needlestick injuries to prevent transmission to patients. 


Universal Precautions and Workplace Culture

Implementing standard precautions, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), is essential for all healthcare workers, regardless of their HIV status. Emphasising universal measures protects both healthcare providers and patients, without singling out individuals based on HIV status to create an unbiased environment.


Instead of making restrictive policies that arise from outdated fears, we should adopt a nuanced approach recognizing the evolving landscape of HIV care and treatment is vital. Challenging stereotypes and promoting evidence-based policies reflecting current scientific understanding is essential.


Embracing a workplace culture that values privacy and confidentiality is crucial. This means that Healthcare workers should not be forced to disclose their HIV status unless it directly impacts their ability to perform duties. Respecting the privacy of individuals with HIV is a fundamental human right contributing to a culture of trust within the healthcare team.

Healthcare workers protesting ARV, NACO, SACS

 Image Credit: Aidsmap


Conclusion 

In conclusion, advocating for special safety concerns for healthcare workers with HIV revolves around embracing inclusivity, dispelling myths such as spread of virus through non-invasive contacts, and ensuring safety measures that are aimed to educate health care workers regardless of their HIV status which are based on scientific evidence. The focus should be on education, training, and implementing universal precautions protecting all healthcare workers, irrespective of their HIV status. In addition, specific laws should be put into action protecting the health care workers and the government from lawsuits. Fostering acceptance and understanding within the healthcare community and the public not only empowers healthcare professionals with HIV but also contributes to destigmatizing HIV and empowers healthcare professionals with HIV but also contributes to destigmatizing HIV and promoting equality within the healthcare sector.

 

By: Isha Purohit

Passionate about literature since the age of 12, Isha is a published author and dreamer currently navigating the challenging realm of medical studies as a second-year student at Geetanjali Medical College. Her love for words led her to weave tales and medical narratives alike.

 

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