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Civil service worst hit by HIV/AIDS

From: New Vision   15-SEP-12


By Francis Kagolo

HIV/AIDS is more prevalent among public servants than other workers in the different sectors of the economy, according to the latest revelation by the ministry of gender, labour and social development.

At least 16 in every 100 civil servants are infected with HIV/AIDS, a high rate when juxtaposed with the national prevalence rate of 7.3%.

Civil servants are followed by workers in hotels and restaurants where the prevalence stands at 10.3% and sales officials (9.8%).

Equally worst hit are the real estate dealers and their workforce where HIV prevalence is at 8.6%, followed by manufacturers (7.4%).

Ironically, the fishing sector usually considered the worst hit came seventh with 7.1%, two percentage points below the national average.

HIV prevalence among workers in the transport and communications sector stands at 7% and 6.9% among those in domestic employment.

Participants in the breakfast meeting at Sheraton Hotel where disability and elderly state minister, Sulaiman Madada, presented the figures yesterday attributed the problem in civil servants to having a higher disposable income.

"When men get more income, they like looking for more wives and majority tend to go out for prostitutes. It becomes worse when this income is stable and one is assured of a monthly salary plus allowances," said Margaret Baba Diri, the Koboko district Woman MP.

"People who earn good money including MPs and businessmen are the ones going for young girls and spreading the disease. They are taking things for granted because they can afford ARVs. We need to sensitise them."

Madada did not quote a specific survey but officials from the gender ministry explained that the statistics were compiled from several national reports.

The gender ministry organised the meeting to orient legislators and judicial officials on the recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation concerning HIV/AIDS and the workplace.

Codenamed R200, the recommendation requires ILO member countries to streamline HIV/AIDs prevention, treatment, care and support at the workplace.

It asserts that HIV testing should remain voluntary and expects employers to put in place occupational safety and health measures to prevent workers' exposure to HIV.

The ILO estimates that of the approximately 38 million people living with HIV today, at least 26 million are workers.

Consequently, Madada who also doubles as acting state minister for labour and employment noted that high prevalence of HIV among workers was thwarting the Government's poverty eradication efforts.

"It is unfortunate that the effects of HIV are concentrated among the productive labour force which poses huge costs on economic enterprises through falling productivity, increased labour costs and loss of skills and experience," he stated.

The minister decried the fact that many workers continue to be discriminated against on suspicion of being HIV positive.

"Some are denied promotion, training and access to medical and sickness benefits. Some are forced to test for HIV and the results are communicated to others without regard to their right to confidentiality. This should stop."

Madada urged the judiciary to save HIV infected workers against segregation, saying that anti-discrimination policies and laws would achieve little unless strenuously enforced in court.

Workers' MP Theopista Nabulya called for the setting up of an industrial court where aggrieved workers, including those discriminated for being HIV positive, can get justice.

Bernard Mujuni, the assistant commissioner for labour inspectorate, called for legislation to protect interns at workplaces, saying many had become prey to their supervisors who infect them with HIV.

The gender ministry permanent secretary, Christine Guwatudde, urged employers to stop work patterns that increase the risk of workers contracting HIV.

She cited long hours at work, mobility and postings that separate spouses, sexual exploitation, rape and favours, poor and exploitative working conditions, and limited coverage of HIV/AIDS workplace interventions as some of the risky patterns.