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SWAZILAND: New aviation rules ground HIV-positive pilots

MBABANE, 25 October 2011 (IRIN) - Swazi HIV activists are up in arms over pending aviation guidelines that will stop people living with HIV from ever piloting an aircraft.

"This is pure discrimination, and if the rule is enforced it will be challenged on constitutional grounds prohibiting such bigotry," said Helen Dlamini, a human rights activist in the central commercial town of Manzini, site of Swaziland's only airport.

New Civil Aviation Authority Regulations for 2011 prohibit the granting of pilots’ licences to individuals who are HIV-positive or have tuberculosis. Routine medical examinations are required while applying for licences and the examining doctor is compelled to conduct an HIV test. The test results would be given to the Civil Aviation Authority, which has no confidentiality policy, despite a Health Ministry policy of confidentiality for HIV-positive people.

"Not only would I not get a pilot's licence, the reason could be made public if anyone wanted to look at the records," said a Swazi man in his 30s who wished to stay anonymous. Because he is HIV-positive, he is worried he may have his licence revoked when he is required to reapply for one in future.

AIDS activists say the discrimination is unfair because HIV is a manageable condition if the patient is on antiretroviral treatment, widely available in Swaziland.

It is illegal to terminate a worker's employment based on his or her HIV status, and while such firings still do occur, they can be challenged in the Industrial Court.

"In the early stages of HIV a patient may be incapacitated by illnesses that can be as debilitating as a bad flu, but this passes and the condition is controllable with ARVs," said Dlamini. "The aviation rules suggest that an HIV-positive person is incapable of operating an aircraft.

"I am reminded that a large number of bus and taxi drivers and truck drivers who operate the big rig vehicles are HIV-positive, and their ability to do their jobs has never been questioned," she added. "If being HIV-positive means you cannot operate a large and complex vehicle because the public would be in danger, why has this issue never been raised on the roads? There are only a handful of private planes in Swaziland and with one commuter airline bringing a few passengers a day from Johannesburg, there's no comparison."

''If being HIV-positive means you cannot operate a large and complex vehicle because the public would be in danger, why has this issue never been raised on the roads?''
The new aviation guidelines issued by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport state: "An applicant for a medical certificate with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) shall be assessed as unfit. An applicant for a medical certificate who is positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) shall be assessed as unfit."

However, a transport ministry source told Plus News that there was some "wiggle room" for HIV-positive applicants.

"Our concern is with AIDS; there is an option for the applicant who is HIV-positive but claims he doesn't have AIDS to submit to a medical investigation to prove he does not have AIDS," said the source, who preferred anonymity. "Remember, licences are also denied to people with speech impediments, diabetes and other conditions. Whatever physically impairs a pilot from 100 percent efficiency is a factor."

He did not say, however, who would investigate applicants to determine whether they had AIDS.

The issue is important in Swaziland, where about 40 percent of sexually active adults are HIV-positive. With national unemployment also standing at 40 percent, there has not been a shortage of unskilled workers. However, the replacement of trained skilled workers has proved a challenge for the country's businesses and industries, according to the Swaziland Chamber of Commerce.

Stanley Kunene, an HIV-positive career guidance counsellor in Manzini, said he had never acted on his own urge to learn to fly an aircraft, but fears for those whose dream is blocked by the new aviation regulations.

"The story of AIDS has always been about the future – how to keep people safe from AIDS, how to keep HIV-positive people alive for a long time. Restricting people's career choices is denying them a future," he said.

jh/kr/mw

Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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