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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Good response on reducing HIV/AIDS workplace discrimination in Sri Lanka

By Quintus Perera - Asian Tribune

American Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Robert O Blake said that since 2005, through collaboration with various chambers of commerce and trade unions, and with funding from the U.S Department of Labor, many have worked hard to devise this plan of HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme.

He was speaking at Dissemination Workshop on ILO/USDOL HIV/AIDS workplace Education Programme Sri Lanka held at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel.
He said that the knowledge on employment related discrimination against people living with HIV has improved to a remarkable level.

In addition a larger number of those surveyed reported using condoms and a majority of workers reported accepting and supportive attitudes towards HIV positive co-workers and workers outside their workplace. These are encouraging results in a country that thus far has been able to maintain low prevalence of HIV infection.

While Sri Lanka has the good fortune to be a country with a low rate of HIV infection, this is no cause for complacency regarding the disease. The existence of high risk behaviors that can facilitate HIV transmission, coupled with other socio-economic, political and cultural factors that can fuel the epidemic, means that the country remains vulnerable for the rate of HIV/AIDS to grow at a much faster rate.

Mr Blake said that President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/AIDS, launched in 2003, remains the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history. In July 2008 the President signed a new law dramatically increasing America’s financial commitment to this fight – authorizing up to $48 billion to combat global HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria over the next five years.

He said that one of the most significant challenges in combating the disease remains society’s stigma and lack of awareness towards those who are HIV-positive. Such phobias are unjustified, and must be eliminated by education and open discussion. People should understand that an HIV/AIDS patient needs – and deserves – the same medical attention and family support that she or he would receive if inflicted with any other serious illness. Raising awareness of HIV/AIDS among both the at-risk and general populations, as this program has done, will reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.

An HIV/AIDS workplace education program is an essential element in an overall HIV/AIDS prevention and education strategy in Sri Lanka. The workplace is a natural and suitable location to educate people. Information can be provided in an informed, business-like way that can overcome workers' inhibitions about discussing what is often viewed as a sensitive or embarrassing issue. Workplace programs also have an educational multiplier effect. People who learn about HIV/AIDS at work often pass on this information to their families and communities.

Athuda Seneviratne, Minister of Labour Relations and Manpower, said that in a relatively short period, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS has become one of the most critical workplace issues in our time . In addition to the epidemic’s devastating impact on these women and men and their families, it affects the world of work in many ways.

He said that discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, threatens fundamental rights at work, undermining opportunities for people to obtain decent employment. Following consultations among government, employers and workers, the ILO in 2001 adopted a code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work. He said that this pioneering code is designed to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS while managing and mitigating its workplace impact.

The key partners of this programme are: Ministry of Labour Relations and Manpower; Employers Federation of Ceylon; Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Trade Unions; Private Companies and Lanka Plus: the network of people living with HIV.

Ms Tine Staermose, Director, ILO Colombo said that the world of work is ideal for attitudinal changes, value transformation and disseminating information relating to HIV/AIDS.

She said that ILO has enhanced the capacity of employers and workers organizations, private sector, businesses, large corporates and the Ministry of Labour to implement policies and programmes for prevention of HIV/AIDS in workplaces since 2005. The programme is funded by the United States Department of Labour.

The key objectives of the programme were to reduce level of employment related discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce HIV/AIDS risk behaviours among targeted workers.

The Survey revealed that workers who report a positive attitude towards condom use was also increased. In 2005 it was only 66.7 percent which has now reached to 81.3 percent. But the survey reported that in Sri Lanka there are accepted norms and as sexuality, sexual issues are still not openly discussed and so, people may not have the correct knowledge regarding facts. Nevertheless, workers have developed positive attitudes towards condoms.

An increased trend in the knowledge of workers on methods of transmission of HIV was observed and the interventions have helped to reach an optimal level with almost 98 percent of the total workers being able to correctly identify three modes of transmission.

In the baseline survey only 12 percent were able to correctly identify five misconceptions regarding HIV transmission which has now improved to 85 percent.

Ninety-five percent of workers now correctly identify three means of protection against HIV. In 2005 only 61 percent recognized that intoxication as a contributing factor to HIV/AIDS, and the figure is around 91 percent now.

Currently about 9 percent had reported having sex in the last three months with a person other than their spouse. The use of condoms during risky sexual behaviours had increased from 48 percent to 81 percent.

An increased percentage has also intentionally limited the number of partners other than their spouse within the last six months in order to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS.

- Asian Tribune -

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