Private sector initiatives mitigate HIV/AIDS stigma at work sites

Government departments slow to respond — legislation still in ‘talk’ mode

By Steve A. Morrell

Chevron’s Managing Director, Kishu Gomes, who consistently initiated moves to defuse the stigma of AIDs sufferers, says the challenge was that population growth at about seven billion globally would increase by an additional one billion in 20 years. The attendant crisis would include food, terrorism, threat to security and rising incidence of HIV/AIDS.

The extra financial bill to combat these unavoidable strictures would mean a financial global bill of about US$ 1.5 Trillion. Added to these restrictive challenges HIV /AIDS has now become crisis number one; globally sweeping through most parts of the world — some severe and some to a lesser degree.

Within context Sri Lanka has been described a less vulnerable area of concern. However, Gomes said in numbers, severity of the disease and its intensity are not known. There are some pointers leading to known cases in treatment , but its real impact largely remains uncertain.

Gomes said there are now about 8 million in the workforce. Unless effective measures are taken now to recognize the diseaase in each work site economic repercussions would not be inconsiderable.

ILO National Programme coordinator, Dr. Indira Hettiarachchi, said the national policy on HIV/AIDS, and its vulnerability affected social change. Although, arguably, spread of the disease has been checked, low condom use is causing concern in most work sites.

Influence of some 1.5 million migrant workers who consistently visit their kith and kin could be AIDS carriers and could spread the disease locally which prompted the policy on HIV/AIDS.

The launch of the National Policy on HIV/AIDS in the world of work in Sri Lanka was presented to the Cabinet in 2010. Its contents concentrated on employer organizations, and trade unions to mitigate isolation in the workplace and defuse stigma influenced by the disease.

The private sector, particularly has taken positive steps to integrate employees suspected of AIDS, rather than have them isolated and spurned to relegated backburner status.

Employee discrimination, and attendant health benefits have not been refused to AIDS suspects, and they continue to lead normal working lives. They also are eligible for health insurance and other in-service health programmes. These plusses were influenced by the private sector and are now part of the work ethic of such corporate entities.

Secretary Ministry of Labour, and Labour Relations, Upali Wijayaweera, also spoke but did not specify finality of the decision on HIV / AIDS and its applicability in government departments as well.

The chief guest was Minister of Labour and Labour Relations Gamini Lokuge. There were no pointed policy statements by Lokuge, but he merely wished the meeting luck in its endeavors.

To support the concept of worker acceptance an AIDS patient, leading a normal working life, addressed the audience. He said although he experienced the trauma of isolation, there was now renewed encouragement that he could lead a normal life simultaneously being treated for the disease.

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