From the TUC

World AIDS Day: how social protection floors can help

01 Dec 2013, by in International

HIV-AIDS has blighted the lives and livelihoods of millions throughout the globe, notably in developing countries, since its onset in the early 1980s. It remains a major killer in sub-Saharan Africa despite the considerable progress made in the last three decades both in prevention and treatment. Globally, new infections have been falling steadily in the past few years. Yet, an estimated 2.3m people were diagnosed with the disease in 2012. The number of AIDS-related deaths has certainly been in constant decline. Nevertheless, 1.6m people are estimated to have died in 2012 from AIDS and related causes.

Today is World AIDS Day and the TUC has published a report on how social protection floors could help in the fight against the pandemic.

Chronic poverty and hunger, which stalk many parts of the planet, constitute the most formidable barrier to the eradication of the pandemic. Despite the significant drop in the cost of anti-retroviral therapy only 9.7m people in low and middle-income countries have access to it at present while the latest guidelines from the WHO put the number of those eligible for treatment at 28.6m. Moreover, the poorer households constantly struggling to make ends meet simply cannot afford the care and support necessary for those infected with or affected by the disease. In other words, the battle against the scourge cannot be won without opening a new front against poverty and hunger.

The need for the introduction of Social Protection Floors (SPFs) – in line with national policies and practices and as part of an effective and efficient strategy against the disease – cannot be over-emphasised in this regard.

Research shows that social protection in the form of cash transfers cushions the impact on households affected by HIV-AIDS and makes it possible for them, for instance, to keep children at school. Moreover, such transfers, if used for purchases from the community, could provide a boost to the local economy through the multiplier effect and spur pro-poor growth. Economic and gender inequality tend to increase women’s vulnerability to HIV-AIDS: social protection measures can minimise it by providing equal access to economic assets and resources to women.

There is a growing body of evidence on the impact of social protection floors on children and households affected by HIV/AIDS in many parts of the world. While SPFs or systems in operation in various countries differ considerably, they all seem to combine some key elements; access to services, financial protection for households, HIV-sensitive social protection policies, legislation and regulation to uphold the rights of vulnerable groups.

The international trade union movement has, indeed, led the way in advocating the inclusion of decent work and social protection in the post-2015 Development Agenda. In addition, it has consistently highlighted the effectiveness of the role of the workplace in the fight against HIV-AIDS and was instrumental in the adoption of the ILO Recommendation on the HIV-AIDS and the World of Work and in the lobbying and advocacy efforts in favour of its implementation across the globe. The ILO Recommendation on social protection adopted with near unanimity in June 2012 is another significant milestone in the twin-track strategy to close in on the pandemic. 

In our view, the introduction of SPFs at national level will not only give a considerable boost to the fight against HIV/AIDS, but it will also infuse new life into the war on want in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. It is indeed the missing link in the battle against the twin evils – poverty and disease.