UGANDA: Government should support new workplace HIV policy
Stigma and discrimination in the workplace is still a problem
KAMPALA, 13 June 2012 (IRIN) - The government needs to actively support a recently launched East Africa HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy or it will not achieve the goals of fighting stigma and promoting non-discrimination in the public sector.
The policy lunched on 16 May by the Ministry of East African Community Affairs aims to address discrimination in government against its employees living with HIV, ensure access to life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and enable people living with HIV to achieve their potential.
"The policy seeks to provide social protection to all public officers living with HIV/AIDS, and support them on how to cope with the virus," Paul Bogere, assistant commissioner for human resources at the Ministry of Public Service, told IRIN/PlusNews. "[It] addresses issues of stigma and discrimination during recruitment and in service, subsequently mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS on the performance of staff."
The negative impact of HIV on Uganda's workplaces is reflected in poor performance due to illness, absenteeism due to stigma, loss of skilled labour, and increased healthcare expenditure, which the policy aims to alleviate.
Financial support is provided by integrating the costs of treating HIV, opportunistic infections, care and support into staff allowances. "Sick leave shall be granted in accordance with the service regulations on recommendation of a medical doctor and allocation of lighter schedules may be granted for specified periods," the policy states.
The Ministry of East African Community Affairs will implement the policy with partners that include the Office of the President, the Uganda AIDS Commission, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Public Service, the Uganda Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS and Uganda's Joint Clinical Research Centre.
"The policy sounds nice on paper but may not be achieved because the government has not taken the health of the citizens seriously. The health budget continues to be reduced instead of being increased to address the management, treatment, care and support of the HIV-infected and -affected populations," Florence Buluba, the executive director of the National Community of Women Living with Aids (NACWOLA), told IRIN/PlusNews.
"Human resources in the health sector are still an issue. The few doctors and nurses that are in place don't match with the numbers of patients. Health facilities are thin on the ground, especially in the rural areas, to meet the needs of those working at the grassroots level,” she noted.
Another activist who preferred anonymity asked: "What mechanism is in place to measure the implementation of that policy in the workplace?"
Benon Twebanze, principal personnel officer in the Ministry of East African Affairs said, "In case the policy is violated, there are rules that exist in public service. They will be applied. If there is any disciplinary action, it will be based on Public Service laws.”
He pointed out that "If a public servant is not assigned, or is denied, a chance for promotion due to HIV status, gender or anything, the affected official has a right to appeal to a superior supervisor, permanent secretary, or the appointing authority, the Public Service Commission. If it's found the decision violates someone's right, a disciplinary action, interdiction or suspension will be taken against such official, as per the public service guidelines."
Armed forces exempt
|The policy sounds nice on paper but may not be achieved because the government has not taken the health of the citizens seriously.
According to the policy, "No employee shall be denied any opportunity be it development, deployment or promotion opportunity because of his or HIV/AIDS status." The principles of non-discrimination, confidentiality, equal rights and obligations are incorporated and require that HIV status not be considered during pre-deployment, or be a reason for demotion, and that promotions should be based on performance and experience.
However, Uganda's uniformed services say while they do not discriminate against employees who are HIV-positive, they will continue to reject prospective employees who are HIV-positive.
"We can't recruit people with major ailments that weaken their body - it's basically on humanitarian grounds. We need to prolong their lives," said Col Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for the Uganda People's Defence Forces.
"If we recruit people with terminal illnesses - like HIV/AIDS, hypertension, heart problems - for military and cadet training, they will not survive. Military training is a very vigorous and tough exercise. We don't want to kill these people," he said.
"However, when a person acquires HIV/AIDS while in service, we take care of them. We give treatment, care and ARVs - we have many… serving in the force - they are not denied any opportunity for service and promotions," Kulayigye noted.
Ibin Ssenkumbi, deputy police spokesperson for the Kampala Metropolitan region said, "We do it for the good of the people, because the training is intense and requires physically able-bodied persons. Besides the long period of treatment, the trainings are hectic and sick people may deteriorate or die."
Activists say security forces should not be exempt from the non-discrimination clauses of the new policy. "These are arms of the government and they know that they have not put mechanisms of addressing the policy requirements [in place] so they are running away from responsibility,” said NACWOLA's Buluba. “That is stigma and discrimination and violation of human rights."