20 April 2008

Kenya: Workplace HIV Policies Bearing Fruit, Says ILO

Nairobi — Establishment of HIV/Aids policies at the workplace has helped developing countries to make progress in the fight against the pandemic, a new International Labour Organisation report says.

The report says these policies have been drivers of attitude change at the workplace with a number of employees adopting habits that are supportive to co-workers living with the virus.

In Kenya, corporate chiefs added impetus to the fight against HIV/Aids when they took public HIV tests aiming to reposition testing as yet another weapon in the fight against the disease.

The new report, 'Saving lives, Protecting jobs,' tracks changes in attitudes related to HIV at the workplace and presents good practices and data collected from workplaces, ministries of labour, employers' and workers' organisations.

To bridge the statistical gap that has made it difficult for Kenya to measure the economic impact of HIV/Aids to companies, the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) says it has developed a monitoring tool that its members will use to come up with the numbers.

The tool captures the total number of illnesses and the total cost to business of such illnesses. The aim is to help organisations come up with plans to mitigate impact.

Publication of this report comes five months after the National Aids Control Council (NACC), the government arm steering the fight against the disease, announced that HIV prevalence had dropped from 5.9 per cent in 2005 to 5.1 per cent last year.

An estimated 1.4 million people are living with HIV and Aids in Kenya. This includes 934,000 people aged between 15 and 49 years.

Statistics also show that at least 1.8 million children have been orphaned by the disease since it was first diagnosed in Kenya in the early 1980s.

Labour sector researchers say absenteeism and turnover, loss of skills and declining morale that accompany HIV/Aids has the ultimate impact of increasing costs to employers and at the same time slowing down growth of profitability.

In recognition of the critical role that testing plays in managing the spread of Aids, NACC has set a target of having 80 per cent of Kenyans tested by 2010.

Dr Sophia Kisting, the Director of the ILO's programme on HIV/Aids and the world of work, says a number of people have made significant progress in using the workplace as a platform for prevention, care and support as well as to tackle stigma and discrimination.

Over the past four years, the ILO has gathered data from managers and workers at partner workplaces in six pilot countries to measure the impact of HIV/Aids and non-discrimination policies.

Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guyana and Togo are listed as countries where workers attitudes towards people living with HIV have greatly improved.

In Ghana, the percentage of workers who reported having a supportive attitude towards co-workers living with HIV increased from 33 to 63.

In all the six countries surveyed, the proportion of workers who reported supportive behaviour towards co-workers living with the virus rose from 49 per cent to 63 per cent.

Attitude towards condom use also improved considerably in most countries with Cambodia recording the highest margin of improvement from 34 per cent rate of use to 68 per cent.

Workers who reported using condoms with non-regular partners rose from 74 per cent to 84 per cent.

The recorded changes in behaviour is partly attributed to increased access to HIV prevention services.

In the impact survey, it was found that 76 per cent of the participating enterprises had written HIV policies.

The ILO report shows that employers' and workers' organisations are increasingly using the ILO's Code of Practice on HIV/Aids to develop policies and practices for the workplace.

Success in developing HIV policies is firmly rooted in collaboration between workers and their employers.

Overall, 16 of the 24 countries where the Strategic HIV/Aids Responses in Enterprises (SHARE), an international workplace education programme, is implementing projects have adopted a national tripartite policy or declaration on HIV and the world of work.

With 33.2 million people officially reported to be living with HIV/Aids globally - the majority of them in their most productive years - the workplace is thought offer a unique entry point for addressing the disease.

The findings, however, have faulted Kenya, saying its Aids policies at the workplace are disjointed.

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