The Occupational Safety and Health Department in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) has embarked on an HIV/AIDS food Industry Pilot Project, in an effort to sensitize the public that HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted through food.
Launched on World Aids Day, December 1, the project enables several companies to become actively involved by signing a proclamation.
The proclamation requires that companies acknowledge that HIV is not transmitted through food and, as such, they do not stigmatize and discriminate against anyone who is HIV positive, says HIV Programme Manager at the Ministry, Peta-Gay Pryce.
"In Jamaica there is a great deal of stigma and discrimination associated with persons who are HIV positive, regarding the handling of food. Persons are of the impression that if someone is HIV positive they are at risk for transmission, hence the reason for the programme," she explains.
She notes that, for the most part, sensitization and public education will be done primarily through the intervention of the private and public sectors.
"The idea is to have companies develop their ability to transmit knowledge about HIV to their stakeholders, and people within their reach," she says.
She says the project was scheduled to commence with five companies, with the intention of having the current work plan roll into 2012. Of the five, Trade Winds Citrus Limited and Mother's Enterprise, have signed the proclamation as it relates to protecting the human rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS within the workplace.
Miss Pryce indicates that studies conducted by various countries, through the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN), have shown that HIV cannot be transmitted through food.
“We are aware that people take action based on their beliefs, or what they perceive to be true, rather than facts concerning persons who are HIV positive,” she says.
Additionally, she says that the project is very important to the development of the HIV response in Jamaica, so it is necessary to educate the public about how to treat persons who are HIV positive.
She tells JIS News that the majority of the private sector-led companies in Jamaica account for the food industry, hence the MLSS will be working through the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS (JaBCHA) to communicate its message to the public.
She says the decision to include the private sector in the project is in alignment with the Tripartite Agreement, a framework for action by the Government, employers and workers, to deal effectively with HIV/AIDS within the workplace.
The policy takes into consideration the effects of HIV/AIDS on the most productive segment of the workforce and, as such, views the problems associated with HIV/AIDS in terms of the significant negative implications regarding production and national development.
She discloses that the Government will be providing the facilities needed from various Ministries, such as the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the MLSS to assist with the project. She also says that it is the mantle of both the MOH and the MLSS to respond to any HIV/AIDS related matter, as part of a collaborative effort.
The MLSS focuses on the workplace, while the MOH takes into consideration health in general, as it relates to prevention, care and support, enabling environment and reducing stigma and discrimination.
She also stresses the point that there is no valid reason to stigmatize or discriminate against someone living with HIV/AIDS within the food industry, whether they are serving or preparing food.
At the other end of the spectrum, she says there is no reason to not serve food to someone who is HIV positive, whether from a restaurant or any other food establishment.
She tells JIS News that HIV/AIDS is transmitted directly from human to human and not food to human. She explains that the body fluids that contain HIV are semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluid and breast milk, which die instantly when exposed to air or heat.
She alludes that many persons are being stigmatized and discriminated against, as a result of real or perceived HIV status.
“Persons have lost their jobs because they are HIV positive, which has to change. Also, many persons are not going to restaurants, because of perceptions held regarding one’s HIV status,” she says.
She, however, acknowledges that accidents are likely to happen in the food industry, whether a person is HIV positive/negative. For example, a person who is HIV positive gets a cut, and a drop of blood accidentally gets into the food, while it is being prepared.
She explains that there would not be any risk for transmission, because the virus cannot survive when it comes in contact with heat.
Meanwhile, she explains that there are certain occupational safety and health standards in the food industry that must be adhered to, irrespective of one’s HIV status.
She says persons should immediately step away from the food that they are preparing, and exercise universal precautions as required. These universal precautions involve cleaning and covering of the cut, and wearing gloves to ensure that there are no risks for transmission.
She says the pilot project fits into the national response to HIV/AIDS in Jamaica, because HIV/AIDS is recognized as an economic factor that impacts on labour, productivity and profitability.
Primarily, the project is funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
For more information persons can contact the MLSS at 1-876- 922-9500-14 or Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS (JaBCHA) at 1-876-920-2937.