Voices
First-person perspectives on the world of work
Photo: ILO/OIT
Discrimination in the workplace

I am living with HIV and I have a right to work

My name is Wu Mengnan and I am 48 years old. My life has changed dramatically because of HIV.

Years ago, my husband was in poor health. We went from hospital to hospital and finally he was diagnosed with AIDS. After that, my HIV infection was also confirmed.  I was 33 years old at the time and my son was five. Somehow news of our HIV diagnosis got out. Even the neighbours in the community knew about our situation. People who we usually got along well with suddenly changed their attitude towards us. They said many bad things about us. They said we were hurting people, and asked us to leave.

A family portrait of Wu Mengnan, her husband and her son 15 years ago.

An old snapshot of me with my husband and son.

© ILO/OIT

With a sick husband and a young boy, I felt helpless. I had done nothing wrong. You can't acquire HIV through daily casual contact. How could the neighbours treat us like this? And where could we move to? Eventually we couldn't take the pressure and left the neighbourhood where we had lived for many years.

By the time my husband tested positive, he had already missed the best opportunities for treatment. His health condition was so bad that he was put on life support in a hospice and died within a few years. Since then, my son and I have had to depend on each other. We have tasted the bitterness of life.

I had to work, make money, and support my son in school. I worked part-time every day and took my antiretroviral medication on time. My physical strength seemed to be no worse than before I contracted HIV. The only difference was that I could not let anyone know that I was living with HIV. If they found out, I would immediately face the risk of losing my job. So I worked and changed jobs a lot.

One company was very nice to me. I felt that I could not “cheat” or “hide” from people, so I told them the truth. They were very upset and scared, and asked me to leave right away.

Wu Mengnan Job seeker

I remember one company was very nice to me. I felt that I could not “cheat” or “hide” from people, so I told them the truth. After learning of my situation, they were very upset and scared and asked me to leave right away.

HIV infection is like a time bomb in my life. I can't tell anyone the truth. I have to be on guard all the time against being found out. I have to be careful not to say anything. It means I can't apply for a job that requires a medical examination or health certificate. Other people living with HIV are in the same situation. Many employers require medical check-ups before recruitment, and there is almost no way to find a good long-term and stable job after an HIV diagnosis.

Wu Mengnan stacks shelves in a shop

It's difficult for me to find work. I find temporary and low paid odd jobs in privately-owned shops.

© ILO/OIT

People can't catch contract HIV through everyday contact, but they are afraid of the virus so no one wants to hire people living with HIV. Even if someone is lucky enough to get a job offer, they will still face unemployment once the employer asks for a physical examination, which is an annual requirement in some service industries. We have to turn to private owners' shops to do odd jobs that require no skills. They are temporary jobs with long working hours, little pay, and no labour contracts, training or social security. I've been working part-time non-stop for 15 years, ever since I acquired HIV.

I'm healthy and able to work. I want to be treated equally and live like a normal person.

Wu Mengnan Job seeker

My son is now in college, and the tuition fee costs 14,500 yuan per year. Although I work very hard, my monthly income is not stable, especially recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I earn on average only 2,000 yuan per month, and am living under great pressure, even with subsistence allowances. I dread to think of what will happen in a few years time if and when my body cannot hold it together. To save money I haven't paid into social security, so after retirement there will be no pension, only subsistence allowances. It would be nice to get a better job, earn three or five thousand yuan a month and save some money while I can still work. That way, life would be much less stressful.

I'm healthy and able to work. I want to be treated equally and live like a normal person.

More stories from ILO Voices

Share this story