US Embassy releases policy document on HIV/AIDS in the workplace
By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
April 13, 2003

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`In the light of the severity of the epidemic and the scope of its impact in the Caribbean, the US Mission in Georgetown has a compelling need to establish this ‘Policy on HIV and AIDS in the Workplace.’ - Ambassador Ronald Godard

The United States Mission in Georgetown has released a policy document on HIV/AIDS in the workplace, which will inform the way in which the disease will be dealt with at the Embassy.

The document, completed in January, was done at the initiative of Ambassador, Ronald Godard. It contains general principles regarding the treatment of employees with HIV/AIDS, and promotes HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention among Mission employees and their families.

Addressing journalists at a Press Conference at the US Embassy Friday, Ambassador Godard stated: “The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the first health and development issue to be considered a threat to international peace and security.”

Noting that the disease continues to spread more rapidly and relentlessly today than ever before, the US envoy said: “In the light of the severity of the epidemic and the scope of its impact in the Caribbean, the US Mission in Georgetown has a compelling need to establish this

The Ambassador said that policy will apply for all employees at the Embassy, adding: “We’re a small number of American Officers assigned to Guyana, but we have a large number of Guyanese employees -about 90 people, and we have a responsibility - a commitment to those people and to our American staff as well, to have a policy on HIV/AIDS in the workplace that makes good sense.”

The officer who drafted and developed the very “coherent policy” on HIV/AIDS for the US Mission was Ms. Ola Criss who works within Embassy.

Outlining the significance of releasing the document at this time, the Ambassador recalled that exactly one year ago today, at the Chief of Missions Conference in Port Au Prince, Haiti, Secretary of State Colin Powell called on Ambassadors to work out their strategies on HIV/AIDS.

On that occasion, Powell urged Ambassadors: “I want you to make HIV/AIDS a top priority, just as President Bush and I have. When you return to your posts, I charge you to use your high profile position and your ingenuity to heighten public awareness to help our agencies coordinate among themselves; support their programmes.”

Soon after, on April 20, a US-Caribbean Conference on HIV AIDS was held in Guyana, during which US Secretary, United States Health and Human Services, Mr. Tommy Thompson signed the historic Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS.

Powell, on that occasion, also mandated Ambassadors to act as the coordinators of the various agencies involved in combatting HIV/AIDS.

The Ambassador said that the five agencies represented at the Georgetown Embassy, have been holding fortnightly meetings over which he presided. The agencies named were The State Department, USAID, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the Peace Corps, with the latter having volunteers working directly in the area of HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, key to the approach to HIV/AIDS in the workplace, the General Principles outline that the Mission will not discriminate against employees on the basis of their HIV status.

He stressed that the Mission will also base its employment practices on the scientific and epidemiological evidence that people with AIDS or HIV infection do not pose a risk of transmitting the virus to co-workers through ordinary workplace contact.

Said Mr. Godard: “In developing the policy, we had some very simple principles that we were interested in implementing in our own house here in the Embassy and in the Mission in general. We were determined that we would not discriminate against employees on the basis that they actually have, or are perceived as having HIV/AIDS.”

The policy also outlines that the Mission will treat employees with HIV/AIDS in the same manner that it treats similarly situated employees with other disabilities, serious medical conditions or illnesses; and will prevent workplace discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Ambassador Godard said: “We say that we will conduct an education policy that puts the word out to our people - a continuous education policy. We promise them that.”

Copies of the Workplace Policy have been circulated to all Diplomatic Missions and comments were invited. The response so far, has been very good, the Ambassador said.

In addition, the document was shared with Guyana’s Health and Labour Ministries.

“We wanted to share what we have done and encourage our support for the government’s effort to promote this kind of policy in the work place, ’cause that’s where we’re really going to have the most impact. That’s where people’s lives can be most directly influenced,” the Ambassador said.

He commended the Guyana Sugar Corporation for having been in the lead in drafting a workplace policy in Guyana.

Meanwhile, the Embassy’s Defence Department is reported to have a number of exchanges taking place where the Americans have shared with the Guyana Defence Force what their policies are on HIV/AIDS, while providing the local army with information on the handling of related problems among their ranks.

Other US officials present at the press conference were Director of USAID, Mr. Mike Sarhan; Dr. Okey Nwanyanwu of the Centre for Diseases Control and Mr. Bill Slater, Head of the USAID programme in Guyana.

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