Windhoek — The Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Uahekua Herunga, says HIV/AIDS threatens the gains that Namibia has made since independence, in building capacity and improving its human resource base.
The pandemic robs the country of its productive people, he said.
Herunga said the pandemic directly affects the health of large numbers of people in society and reduces the overall health status and well-being of the nation.
"Without productive people our resources will be degraded as there will be no park rangers and game guards to take care of them," the deputy minister said during the launch of his ministry's HIV/AIDS Policy, last week. He said the ministry strives to protect and care for its human resources to mitigate the impact of the disease.
"Our slogan therefore in fighting this pandemic is 'Healthy ecosystems and healthy people for biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilisation of natural resources,"' the ministry's second-in-charge said.
The purpose of the po- licy is to ensure a consistent and equitable approach to the prevention of HIV/AIDS among employees and their families and to manage the consequences of it in accordance with the National Policy on HIV/AIDS.
Key objectives of the policy are to support and strengthen the ministry's response to the pandemic, create awareness among staff on transmission, prevention, control and management. The policy will further provide opportunities for voluntary counselling and testing and provide psychosocial support to staff members.
According to Herunga, in many remote areas discussing HIV/AIDS is taboo, hence the ministry has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to create the HIV/AIDS Environment Working Group (HEWG), a platform where HIV/AIDS issues can be comfortably discussed.
The HEWG worked closely with the ministry in developing the policy.
Employees are under no obligation to disclose their HIV/AIDS status to the ministry and should also not be tested as prerequisite to getting a job.
The UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Namibia Resident Representative, Musinga Bandora, applauded the ministry for recognising the need to address the pandemic in the workplace.
He expressed satisfaction that Namibia is mainstreaming HIV/AIDS programmes in sector plans and workplace policies.
"Sector policies on HIV/AIDS are crucial as they are based on the recognition that HIV/AIDS impacts the workforce and workplace," Bandora said at the launch. He said sectors are impacted differently and therefore the workplace policies seek to address the unique circumstances and work environment of each sector.
"The drivers of the epidemic in each sector, such as in tourism, are different and therefore the strategies for prevention, for mitigation, for care and support must be context-specific and therefore different," the UN representative said.
The Namibia National Self-Assessment for Global Environmental Management identifies HIV/AIDS as a major threat to environment management.