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African Trade Unions Focus on HIV/AIDS in Workplace


Africa Trade Union leaders say they will work for policies to protect the rights of members living with HIV/AIDS. At a three day meeting in the Ghanaian capital Accra, the African chapter of Union Network International or UNI, an umbrella of national trade unions across the globe, said a workplace policy on HIV/AIDs would help reduce infection rates among the continent's labor force, which is said to be the most vulnerable group.The vast majority of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa are in the prime of their working lives, according to recent statistics.

Addressing union leaders, Ghana's vice president, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, said HIV is gradually eroding the continent's workforce.

Over 90 percent of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa is transmitted through heterosexual contact, among the age group of between 15 and 49.

The vice president described as "frightening" the HIV/AIDs prevalence rates of 6.5 percent for Togo and nearly 11 percent in the Ivory Coast, adding that the situation in Ghana is equally alarming.

Mahama said although much has been done to reduce the rate of the disease in Ghana, it is difficult to get those infected to come forward due to stigmatization and discrimination against them by society.

"Any worker who is discriminated against in the work place because of his or her HIV status affects his or her rights to live and work in dignity," he said.

The vice president said protecting the human rights of affected workers and combating discrimination against them remain a very important role for trade unions. He called for a proactive approach by employers and organized labor in the formulation of workplace polices to fight HIV/AIDs.

The regional secretary of UNI Africa, Fackson Shamenda, says it is important to adopt a holistic approach in dealing with HIV/AIDS.

"It is a disease it is come here to stay, so as much as you talk about prevention you've got a very large number of people who are already infected," Shamenda said. " So it is important also you take care of the people who are infected. You cannot ask somebody also to go for voluntary testing if they know their status and you don't provide the necessary medicine to take care of them, then the whole exercise is futile which has created unnecessarily stigmatization on people, so it's a range of how can we prevent it, how are we going to take care of those who are infected and how is it going to be managed."

Shamenda says it is sad that less than 10 percent of workers living with HIV/AIDs have access to medication.

Solomon Adebosin, UNI Africa youth president, says employers have to be made to do more.

"It is part of the policy we are looking at that once somebody can come up to declare their status, it will be the employers duty, because the employers have a part to play in health of their workers, if the workers are always falling sick then the productivity become low, anybody who come up to declare their status, it is the right and the duty and obligation of the employer to ensure that that person is also given adequate medical care," Adebosin said.

Nearly two-thirds of the world's HIV-positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa.

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