Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) affect millions of people and families around the world. Social workers in this area provide support to people living with HIV/AIDS and those affected by the disease, including partners, family members, children and friends.
With their understanding of the social determinants of health—which include social status, income, education and social support networks—social workers consider all elements that contribute to a person’s mental and physical well-being.
Support at the individual level
On an individual level, social workers provide a range of services and supports to people living with HIV/AIDS. They can help individuals navigate community resources, government support, legal services and other systems, while empowering their clients to make informed decisions about their health.
Social workers also provide support and therapy for challenges like a new diagnosis, disclosure, intimate partner violence, depression, fertility, anxiety, relationships, grief and loss, and addictions. They often work on an interdisciplinary team to provide comprehensive health care and support for clients living with this chronic illness.
Support at the community level
Within the community, social workers advocate on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS through community organization and policy development. They develop and provide education that aims to reduce incidence of HIV through harm reduction and health promotion.
Social workers understand that healthcare involves more than medical care. They advocate to eradicate social exclusion and poverty, as well as other harmful barriers that have a negative impact on people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
Role and responsibilities
Depending on the role and the organization, social workers working in the HIV/AIDS field may:
- Hold individual counselling and psychotherapy sessions for individuals, couples and families
- Conduct support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS and their partners, children and friends
- Work as part of an interdisciplinary team to develop individualized treatment plans
- Liaise with agencies, organizations and service providers to offer additional support or augment what already exists
- Make referrals to community resources
- Advocate on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS, families, groups and communities, as needed
- Develop and deliver education to individuals, families and communities
- Perform community health needs assessments and participate in community health planning
- Plan, develop and evaluate community programs
Depending on the role and the organization, social workers working in the HIV/AIDS field may need:
- Registration in good standing with the relevant provincial or territorial regulatory body
- Bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in social work from an accredited university
It is helpful for social workers working in the HIV/AIDS field to have:
- Two years related social work experience
- Experience working with couples, families and groups
- Ability to demonstrate cultural competence and exhibit respect for diversity
- Crisis intervention skills