|Workplaces fertile ground to fight HIV and Aids|
|Friday, 13 July 2012 08:07|
WITH many donor countries preoccupied with the economic crises on their doorsteps and slowly starting to reduce their HIV and Aids funding, many lives are at risk.
Last year's announcement by the Global Fund to fight HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, cancelling its next funding round, has further fuelled panic among many nations heavily burdened by the HIV and Aids pandemic.
UNAIDS noted that the global economic crisis appears to have put an end to a decade of funding increases by donors - after flattening out in 2009 for the first time, international AIDS assistance fell by 10 percent in 2010.
In Zimbabwe, the country is saddled with a $39 million budget deficit for the procurement of anti-retroviral drugs for 2012.
Speaking during a National Aids Council media capacity building workshop in Kwekwe last week, NAC's director of finance, Mr Albert Manenji, said the finding crisis might put the lives of 1, 3 million people living with HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe's lives at risk
"For 2012 alone, we have a deficit of $39 million and if donors pull out anytime, there is a risk that some patients will not receive treatment.
"There is a huge funding gap, which might affect the supply of drugs and access of treatment. At the moment, we only have ARVs worth $6 million."
He said the total number of people in need of anti-retroviral drugs in Zimbabwe was 503 678 for adults above 15 years and 89 490 children under 15 years.
"The number of patients in need of ART increased from 350 000 in 2009 to 503 000 in 2010 and 593 168 last year. The overall ART coverage in 2011 was 78,1 percent, which is below the universal access target of 80 percent," he said.
Mr Manenji said concerted efforts are needed to prevent new infections.
"There is need to invest on prevention services if we are to win the fight against HIV and Aids. Most problems we are experiencing today are a result of prevention failure in the past years. Prevention is less costly than treatment," he said.
One area where prevention services are not being taken seriously is the workplace.
An NAC official, Ms Vimbayi Mdege, said although Statutory Instrument 202 of 1998 stipulates that employers should have HIV and Aids workplace policies only 32 percent of the companies have the policies. Of the 36 percent, only 23 percent of them are implementing them.
"We have realised that most people are now aware of the provision of Statutory Instrument 202 of 1998. Most companies need to know the importance of mainstreaming HIV and Aids in the workplace because we are continuing losing skilled and experienced employees to HIV and Aids, yet policies are there and gathering dust in some people's offices.
"HIV and Aids threatens productivity, profitability and the welfare of employees and their families. Workplace HIV and Aids policies and programmes can play a vital role in raising awareness around HIV, preventing HIV infection and caring for people living with HIV. The workplace, as an integral part of the community, has vital role to play in terms of prevention," she said.
Ms Mdege said they were now targetting the workplace as fertile grounds for the fight against HIV and Aids because workers spend most of their time there, working and interacting with their colleagues.
"Because of their higher literacy levels, workers are also better placed to understand the meaning, causes, preventive measures, and other issues surrounding the epidemic, which has continued to attract the attention of governments, civil society, and other interest groups owing to its devastating effects on populations.
"However, we are worried that policies are not being translated into programmes and actions to deal with HIV and Aids in the workplace. HIV and Aids is not being included in the key result areas of companies and no-one is penalised for not implementing it. We have also realised that companies are not providing material and financial support to focal persons in their organisations and this will surely result in the country experiencing new infections," she said.
Ms Mdege said HIV and Aids programmes were also not being included in companies' budgets since organisations were not seeing the issue as a strategic one.
"While most organisations are found wanting in playing their part in the fight against HIV and Aids, we are also having challenges in monitoring the implementation of policies. The SI 202 of 1998 is now outdated and we are now revising it other partners like the Ministry of Labour to come up with penalties to compel companies to implement the policies. We also want it to be made an offence for companies not to have HIV and Aids policies at their workplaces because we will never win the war against the spread of the disease if we fail to come up with effective preventative measures," she said.
The Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trades Workers' Union's regional organising secretary, Mr Jackson Mtisi, said although HIV and Aids workplace policies were in place, their implementations were a challenge.
"Documents are there and personnel were trained, but the implementation part is a challenge. Our union deals with people who are highly migratory. Most of our members are involved in construction projects and are not permanently stationed on one place and we find it difficult to effectively implement HIV and Aids policies.
"Although there is a provision in our statutes that employers should afford their employees time to visit their families, we realised that very few can afford that and our members end up being exposed to HIV infections as they are at times forced to look for alternative partners to quench their sexual desires. While, we always encourage abstinence, we cannot defy nature and people at times end up indulging.
"We will continue hammering the message home and training our members. We will also continue encouraging regular meetings of our members at their workplaces," he said.
Mr Patrick Ndlovu from the Commercial Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe said they were facing resistance from some employers who were barring them from educating their members at their workplaces.
"Some employers are reluctant to allow us to meet our members because they still think it is only the duty of the National Aids Council to deal with issues to deal with HIV and Aids. It is everyone's responsibility to fight the spread of HIV, but out of ignorance, we are being barred from educating our members on safe sex practices. We know that most employers are not implementing the HIV and Aids policies and they do not want us to expose them, but that will not stop us from our fight to have the message heard.
"Zimbabwe is continuously losing skilled labour, yet we have brilliant policies in place with no-one enforcing them. We will support all efforts to have the policies enforced because we want an empowered workforce. Gone are the days of having policies displayed on notice boards without anyone implementing them," he said.
Mr Ndlovu encouraged employees to continue engaging their employers in having all issues that affect their health addressed.
"Employees should also not fold their hands and wait for the employers to act. They should speak out against anything that they feel infringes on their rights. We cannot allow employees to continue suffering, yet there are policies in place to improve their work environment and even increase production," he said.