Fourteen companies sign workplace HIV policies
Stabroek News
December 19, 2006

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Fourteen companies yesterday formally adopted HIV and AIDS policies as part of a programme to integrate prevention and care measures in the workplace.

Beverage giants Banks DIH Ltd and Demerara Distillers Ltd (DDL) were among the companies signing workplace HIV and AIDS polices, which are the result of the ongoing USAID/Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention (GHARP) Project Private Sector/Workplace Programme. The other signatories were DIDCO, the Institute of Private Enterprise Development, Linden Economic Advancement Programme (LEAP), Denmor Garment Co, Kayman Sankar and Co Ltd, Guyana National Shipping Corporation, Cara Lodge Hotel, Guyana National Industrial Co Ltd, Farfan and Mendes, Guyana Forestry Commission, Vannessa Mining Co, and Scotia Bank. GHARP has been working with partners and potential partners in the public and private sector over the last year.

USAID Mission Director Dr Fenton Sands noted that workplace polices and programmes ultimately help the bottom line for any company, while providing the framework for action to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS and to provide treatment and care.

He described the subscription to policies as an important step. However at the same time he also noted that much more needed to be done since such initiatives would remain useless without the mechanisms for implementation.

Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy said that with roughly 10,000 employers in Guyana the challenge is to get everyone on board as part of the partnership. In describing the success of the initiative, he recalled that there was once a time when banks did not allow HIV and AIDS posters to be put up on their walls. Banks have now become a big part of the promotion of programmes.

He also spoke of the progress made with churches. But he also noted that there is still some way to go, and in this vein mentioned that insurance companies were still asking about people's HIV status before granting them policies, while stigma and discrimination remain problems. Nonetheless, he was hopeful that the ministry would go some way towards addressing the problems with the promulgation of the new HIV and AIDS legislation, which he said was coming soon. He said, among other things, that the existing anti-discrimination laws would be amended to include HIV and AIDS.

Ramsammy also emphasised that the HIV and AIDS workplace policies are only one component of a larger employee wellness programme to promote positive lifestyle behaviour. In fact, he said, unless the policies are situated in a broader context, employers will still face health challenges in the future. He stressed that it is imperative that employees realise that behavioural adjustments are necessary.

Ramsammy pointed out that men who have sex with men are not getting infected in a different way from any other group; it's simply a matter of reckless sex. "It's not some devilish god sitting up there punishing them," he said, "it's reckless behaviour that can only be changed with adjustment. That is our challenge!"

Meanwhile, CEO of Denmor Garment Co, Dennis Morgan, who also serves as chairman of the workplace programme workgroup of the Private Sector Advisory Board, said companies have a come a long way in a short time. But he added that the work has just begun and HIV and AIDS require sustained vigilance and action. He noted that the companies that have been reluctant to face HIV and AIDS are those whose workers are most vulnerable. Nonetheless, he said, no matter the size or scope of a business, it is important to implement polices and also to communicate them to workers.