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The Ministry of Finance and the Public Service yesterday (Dec. 1), launched its HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy, joining the growing list of Government and private sector organisations that have taken a stand against HIV/AIDS discrimination in the workplace.
The launch, held at the Ministry’s National Heroes Circle offices in Kingston, was part of activities to mark World AIDS Day.
A framework for action by the management and staff of the Ministry, the policy uses the 10 International Labour Organisation (ILO) principles as its foundation and these are: non-discrimination; the recognition of HIV/AIDS as a workplace issue; gender equality; healthy work environment; social dialogue; no screening for exclusion; confidentiality; continuation of employment; prevention; and care and support.
Finance Minister, Audley Shaw, in a speech delivered by Technical Advisor in the Ministry, Sidjae Robinson, noted that approximately 27,000 Jamaicans are living with the disease and more than 60 per cent of affected persons do not know that they are infected “because they have never been tested.” The disease is most prevalent among the 15 to 49 age group, which means that a significant portion of the labour force is affected.
“As it relates to the labour force, about 73 per cent of all reported AIDS cases in Jamaica are persons between ages 20 and 49 years. This has been the pattern for the past decade. Males make up 55 per cent of the 12,520 persons reported with AIDS in Jamaica between 1982 and 2007, while women and girls, aged 15 to 49 years, account for 33 per cent,” Mr. Shaw outlined.
He revealed further that on average, at least one out of every 100 workers has been or is infected with HIV, adding that “if you hire 1,000 people, at least 15 of them are living with HIV, and about 10 of them don’t know that they have HIV.” The loss of productive workers, he noted, diminishes a country’s ability for sustainable socio-economic growth and development.
Noting that the disease is “no longer a death sentence”, given the availability of antiretroviral (ARV) medication, coupled with the fact that HIV is not contagious, Mr. Shaw said that there is “absolutely no reason to fear HIV or AIDS”, if contact with the carrier is casual. He, however, stressed the need for strengthening the framework to effectively deal with the disease, particularly in light of it being sexually transmissible when protection is not used.
“We must continue our interventions through sustained education programmes that influence attitude and behaviour change, to help reduce the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS,” the Minister said, arguing that if activities and actions within the workplace are guided by these principles, then efforts will go a far way in removing the barriers to HIV prevention and treatment.
He urged members of his own staff to familiarise themselves with their roles, rights, and responsibilities, as it relates to the HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy, noting that: “there is need to have all hands on deck in Jamaica’s response to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
Drafting of the policy was spearheaded by a 29-member steering committee comprising employees of the Ministry and its agencies – the Tax Administration Services, and Accountant General’s Department.
The Ministries of Labour and Social Security; Water and Housing; and Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, have launched similar policies.