Response stories

“I have my right to work”: the resilience of a person living with HIV working in a hospital in North Macedonia

A person living with HIV who takes antiretroviral medications can work. In North Macedonia the Law on Labor Relations and the Law on the Prevention and Protection from Discrimination both prohibit discrimination based on health status, which includes HIV. However, in this case, an attempt was made to prohibit a person living with HIV from continuing to work at his place of employment, a city hospital in one Macedonian town.

“Don’t come to work.”

In August 2023, the person underwent an HIV test at the hospital where he works as auxiliary medical staff. When the test came back positive, the information was shared with all of his colleagues. That same day, he received a call from a doctor informing him that he should not report to work the following day. At the same time, the individual had other health issues, so he sought medical assistance at the same hospital where he had worked for almost 35 years. The same doctor who informed the individual that he should not report to work declined to examine him. The individual left to seek medical assistance in another place. In the meantime, the person started taking antiretroviral medicines. 

After the visit to the hospital, the person took medical leave due to additional health conditions that necessitated bed rest. After his health issues were resolved, he wanted to return to work. However, his family doctor and the medical commission, which is in charge of awarding medical leave, continued to extend his medical leave without his consent and any specific reason, citing the fact that he is a person living with HIV. Soon after, he was directed to a doctor, who specialized in labor medicine, to evaluate his ability to work. According to the relevant legislation, if a person living with HIV is on medical leave for 10 months or less, he or she must have an assessment to determine his or her ability to work.

REAction and outcome

A REActor met with the individual and suggested he obtain a report from his doctor at the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions, stating that he is well and has no reason not to work. After receiving the report, the Association Stronger Together from Skopje filed two complaints: one with the director of the hospital where the individual works and one with the state Health Insurance Fund. The letter to the director described the violations committed by the staff, such as the denial of healthcare, the disclosure of medical data, and insults directed at the employee, and demanded that the hospital should initiate an investigation and punish the perpetrators, while also undertaking measures to stop the harassment of the employee. The Hospital was also notified that Stronger Together and other civil society organizations would be ready to provide legal support to the person with HIV should he decide to take the matter to court. The letter to the Health Insurance Fund indicated that the family doctor and the medical commission are providing medical leave to those who don’t need it and by default, spending the Fund’s money without justification; additionally, the letter enunciated that the extension of the medical leave was without the patient’s consent. Following the complaints, there was a reaction by the Hospital, which allowed the person to return to work and he has not reported any other breaches of his rights afterward.

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