Aids haunts transport sector – ILO

Ngoni Chanakira

THERE is a very high prevalence of HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe’s transport sector and officials are failing to respond to the needs of workers in that industry, says the International Labour Org

anisation (ILO).


According to a report presented at last week’s three-day conference on HIV and Aids in Harare, the ILO said the majority of transport enterprises did not have policy frameworks to guide responses to the deadly virus.


Consultant E Serim wrote the report after a project he completed on HIV and Aids prevention in southern Africa.


The Zimbabwe programme was launched in 2002 as part of a regional effort to mobilise a united and intensified response to the HIV and Aids pandemic.


Partners included the government, workers’ and employers’ organisations and relevant non-governmental organisations.


The target population for the pro-gramme included transport sector workers, their families and contacts.


The ILO recommended that impact assessments and HIV and Aids workplace policies should be developed in other sectors.


It also recommended that policy development must be followed up by concrete action plans.


The HIV virus affects everyone, every individual, family, social institution, organisation and business.


The ILO says so far the pandemic poses one of the greatest challenges to business development in Africa.


The epidemic claims some of the best business leaders, managers and a great number of workers at all levels of the business system.


In Zimbabwe at least 3 000 individuals are dying weekly as a result of the scourge which currently has no cure. HIV-related absenteeism, loss of productivity and the cost of replacing workers threatens the survival of a number of businesses and sectors in the increasingly competitive market.


In a bid to try and deal with the crisis, several business executives launched the Zimbabwe Business Council on HIV and Aids. The council is headed by Standard Chartered Bank of Zimbabwe Ltd chief executive officer Washington Matsaira.


Leading nickel producer Bindura Nickel Corporation in its annual report for the year ended December 31 confirmed that HIV and Aids was causing havoc at the workplace.


Bindura said while progress was made in the implementation of an occupational health management system, linking medical surveillance to workplace exposure monitoring, using guidelines adopted from Anglo American plc, the effect of the HIV and Aids pandemic continued to impact negatively on its operations.


HIV and Aids does not only affect workers. By claiming a large part of the urban population and by impoverishing families and communities it also affects the market base of local businesses.


A United Nations Development Programme report released early this month pointed out that there were currently 1 820 000 individuals in Zimbabwe estimated to be HIV positive.


The HIV infection rate is 24,6% and it is estimated that by the end of last year, 761 000 children were orphaned by Aids.


The ILO said during its study it had discovered that there was definitely a high prevalence of HIV and Aids in the transport sector, that the majority of transport enterprises did not have a policy framework to guide responses to HIV and Aids, that impact of HIV and Aids on the transport industry was high with disease burden and deaths, and that the ability to identify resources to respond to needs of transport workers was essential.


It said some of the lessons learnt during the exercise included that a participatory process was effective in policy development and results of an assessment could further strengthen leadership commitment to the development of a policy framework.


“With a common goal, ‘tripartite partners’ – government, employers and workers organisations – are able to work together for strategic planning,” the report said.


President Robert Mugabe in his address to officially open the conference said estimates released last year by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare show that HIV prevalence among sexually active adults between the ages of 15 and 49 years stood at 24,6% with an estimated 1,82 million persons living with HIV and Aids. He said an estimated 40 000 new HIV infections occurred annually while about 135 000 lives were lost to Aids.


“It is disappointing that the majority of people still choose not to know their HIV status,” he said. “I hope this conference will help to disabuse delegates of this stigma and bring the reassurance to our people that knowing your HIV status enables you to live a healthier, informed life,” Mugabe told more than 700 participants gathered in Harare.

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