In a health context the term supportive environments refers to both the physical and the social aspects of our surroundings. It encompasses where people live, their local community, their home, where they work and play. It also embraces the framework which determines access to resources for living, and opportunities for empowerment. Thus action to create supportive environments has many dimensions: physical, social, spiritual, economic and political.1

Creating a safe, healthy, supportive environment for women with HIV will result in a more positive, productive, happier environment for everyone. The Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation suggests2 that an organization consider:

  • Set a positive tone
  • Be clear that your organization doesn’t discriminate against people who have HIV, and that it values diversity.

  • Respect confidentiality
  • Medical history is private and confidential.

  • Provide reasonable accommodation
  • HIV is unpredictable. Someone with HIV will experience periods of good health and periods of illness.

  • Make sure you have an up-to-date policy on HIV/AIDS
  • This can be included as part of a general policy on episodic disabilities. Policies guide managers and employees in best practices to respond to situations. Policies state what is expected and how a company or organization will fulfill its responsibility to create a supportive environment that is free of discrimination.

According to the Canadian AIDS Society, “treatment of people with HIV/AIDS in the workplace has generated more individual lawsuits than any other disease in history.”3 Developing a good policy helps to avoid legal problems and costs. It can make sure people with HIV are treated fairly, and can mean that any problems are dealt with quickly and fairly.

The Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation believes that any policy must be supported by education to help create a supportive environment. Policies that include this kind of education also raise awareness of the risks and help stop the spread of HIV.

People with HIV who have a supportive workplace are more likely to seek early care and treatment, avoid hospitalization, and have lower health care costs.4


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1 Sundsvall Statement on Supportive Environments for Health, Third International Conference on Health Promotion, Sundsvall, Sweden, 9-15 June 1991, World Health Organization, online as of June 2011
2 Information for Employers – Creating supportive environments, Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation, online as of June 2011
3 HIV is Still at Work – Is Your HIV Workplace Policy Up to Date?, The CAS Guide to an HIV Friendly Workplace, Jean Bacon for the Canadian AIDS Society, 2004