There are some issues at the workplace that many of us would rather not talk about .One of them is the matter of HIV/AIDS. How should we treat with that co-worker who has been diagnosed with the condition? Do we still continue to have lunch with him/her? Do we cut all links and throw out the sofa he/she sat in when he/she visited your home? As ridiculous as the scenarios presented may seem, the fact is many persons are ignorant on the issue of HIV/AIDS and do behave in an uninformed way.
The Ministry of Health through the National HIV/STI Control Programme is embarking on a drive to establish HIV/AIDS workplace policies and programmes island wide. This effort must be commended and it is hoped that Human Resource Professionals will indeed make this a priority in their organizations.
The policy frame work is based on ten (10) key principles promulgated by the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work.
Let’s look at these principles
1. Recognition of HIV/AIDS as workplace issue.
Hiding our head in the sand or sweeping the issue under the carpet in longer an option. The fact is the illness exists and we all must play our part to prevent or limit the spread of the epidemic.
The person who is infected must NOT be dehumanized or worse yet demonized. He/she must be allowed to carry out his/her duties and engage in social relationships with dignity
3. Gender equality
Women by virtue of their biological make up and their socio – cultural disposition, are said to be at greater risk to the illness than men. This imbalance must be noted and every effort be made to ensure that both men and women are treated with equal respect in relation to the prevention and curtailment of the condition
4. Healthy work environment
The workplace must be safe and free of elements that would endanger the lives of the employees. A medical laboratory for instance must put measures in place to prevent the transmission of any communicable disease. Safety must begin at the entry point of the workplace.
5. Social dialogue
Setting up a HIV/AIDS policy at the workplace would require inputs from all the key stakeholders including the unions. When there is full participation and buy in by all the players, implementation will be easy.
6. Screening for purposes of exclusion from employment or work processes
To avoid any semblance of discrimination it is recommended that HIV testing be not be a prerequisite for employment nor should mandatory screening be done while the staff member is in the employ of the organization
An employee’s HIV/AIDS status is his/her private business and should not be broadcasted throughout the organization. Any disclosure must be with the permission of the infected employee.
8. Continuation of employment relationship
In the same way someone who is diagnosed with diabetes is allowed to carry out his/her duties freely the same treatment should be meted out to someone who is HIV positive. Neither of the two is a cause for termination
Like other communicable diseases HIV/AIDS can be prevented.It is critical that a well structured company wide HIV/AIDS information and education programme be implemented
10. Care and support
Those who are infected must be treated with dignity and must be afforded medical attention and psychological support.
The challenge therefore is for all organizations to take the bold intiative and establish a HIV/AIDS programme.Call the National HIV/STI Control Programme of the Ministry of Health for guidance. After all we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.