HIV/AIDS prevention makes good business sense
-Ambassador Bullen at $58M education programme launch
Stabroek News
October 12, 2003

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US Ambassador to Guyana, Ronald Bullen says it makes good business sense for companies in Guyana to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic because of the disease’s direct impact on the economy.

He pointed out that the current and future workforce was at an increasingly high risk as the epidemic disproportionately affected people during their productive years.

“We must all work together and harness the power that the private sector brings to the table and their core strengths of creativity and flexibility to improve the reach and effectiveness of AIDS programmes. Business can do things faster and more effectively than anyone else.”

Bullen made these remarks when the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) signed a $58M Memorandum of Under-standing (MOU) on Friday for the implementation of a three-year workplace HIV/AIDS Education Programme in Guyana.

Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Pulandar Kandhi, who chaired the proceedings, announced that some companies had already come on board in the fight in the workplace. These include: Barama Company Limited, Texaco, Bounty Farm, Sterling Products, the Guyana Power & Light, Linmine, GUYSUCO, Banks DIH and John Fernandes.

Minister of Labour, Human Services & Social Security, Dr. Dale Bisnauth, viewed the signing of the MOU as an important step in strengthening the fight against HIV. He noted that the persons most affected by the epidemic in the Caribbean were persons between the ages of 15-44.

The programme, which is funded by the United States Department of Labour, is seen as an effort that will increase the capacity of the ministry, employers, workers organisations and many others to strengthen and expand their leadership role and play their part in the HIV/AIDS response. The ILO will execute the programme.

The signing took place at the Ministry of Labour in Brickdam and was witnessed by a number of individuals representing public and private entities including Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.

The MOU mandates the ministry and the ILO to work together in order to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, prevent related discrimination and improve the implementation of the National Strategic Plan in accordance with internationally-recognised standards. They will do so through the technical co-operation project entitled HIV/AIDS Workplace Education Programme.

Bullen explained that the ultimate goal of the programme was to develop a sustainable national workplace programme on HIV/AIDS, that is integrated into existing programmes.

“This programme commits an additional US$300,000... to the response. These resources and all the resources to date continue to demonstrate the commitment of the US Government to assist in your efforts, especially at a time when US foreign- interests have many competing demands around the world,” Bullen said.

Director of the ILO Caribbean Office, Grace Strachan, said that across the globe, over 42 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. And nine out of every ten, are adults in their productive and reproductive prime; most are workers- the mainstay of their families, communities and enterprises.

She added that for individuals, the cost to their health and livelihoods were obviously devastating. “They are also exposed to discrimination, which threatens fundamental principles and rights at work and undermines efforts for prevention and care,” she said.

According to her, for individual countries, the costs are also devastating. The consequences, she said, included mounting pressure on the health services and social security system, falling life expectancy; a contracting workforce and the loss of skilled labour; lower productivity from farms and enterprises; and a reduction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. Progress towards the achievement of a country’s development goals is consequently stalled.

Strachan said that the workplace provided an ideal setting to respond to HIV/AIDS as it allowed those at risk to be reached, it allowed prevention messages to be disseminated and facilitated other interventions - especially care.

According to Ambassador Bullen, in Guyana the ILO would be partnering Family Health International (FHI) to implement the project. He said that the ILO-FHI would collaborate closely with the tripartite partners from labour, employer and government organisations to support the national plan and counter its adverse effects.