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Nac: Co-ordinating the national multi-sectoral response to HIV/Aids

ZIMBABWE remains among countries with high HIV infection rates in the southern African region although the country has managed to reduce the HIV prevalence among persons aged 15-49 years to 13,7%, mainly through changes in behaviour and personal risk reduction. An estimated 1,12 million adults and children are living with HIV in Zimbabwe. Because of the increased burden of disease due to HIV, the country has continued to scale up prevention, care, and treatment programmes to combat the disease.
Within the world of work, no sector is spared from the ravages of the dual epidemic. Principally, HIV and Aids affect people within their most productive years of life. For such people, earnings are reduced as a result of illness and higher expenditure on health care and premature death.

 

For people affected by the suffering of infected relatives and love ones, the increasing demands on their financial support and time could strain earnings. At the enterprise level, HIV and Aids cause huge costs due to increased labour costs and loss of skills and experience as workers succumb to diseases and deaths due to Aids. This results in businesses realising reduced profit margins due to increased expenditure relating to health, disability, pension and death benefits.

 

National and local resources and time efforts, which could have been used for community development projects, are increasingly being used to deal with the impact and consequences of HIV and Aids.

 
The National Aids Council (NAC) is mandated to coordinate the multi-sectoral response in line with the “three ones” principle and guided by Zimbabwe National HIV and Aids strategic plan. In line with its mandate to lead and co-ordinate the national response to HIV and Aids in prevention; treatment, care and support; and enabling environment, NAC adopted a lateral and integrated programmatic approach that seeks to mainstream HIV across all sectors. The adoption of the multi-sectoral and decentralised approaches in the coordination and management of the national response have created more opportunities for many and diverse stakeholders’ involvement.

 
As part of the multi-sectoral approach to HIV and Aids, private sector organisations have a key role to play in scaling up HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Yet to date, the response has been inadequate and unco-ordinated. Few sectors and organisations have developed comprehensive workplace policies and programmes addressing HIV prevention, treatment and care. The majority still need to engage in meaningful dialogue and action on HIV and Aids as a workplace issue.

 

A survey conducted by NAC in 2010 revealed that only 36% of the surveyed companies had workplace HIV policies. Companies are at varying levels with respect to their engagement with workplace HIV and Aids issues. Some know they have a problem and are taking action on multiple fronts to address the issues, while others suspect they may have a problem but don’t know how or where to start.

 
There are still other companies that are unaware of the impact of HIV and Aids on their workforce, and by extension, on the productivity of the companies. Leadership commitment in developing and implementing workplace programmes remains a challenge.

 
To achieve our national commitments toward Universal Access to HIV prevention, care support and treatment, there is need for the collaboration and support of the private sector in the development and implementation of innovative strategies to mitigate the impact of HIV and Aids. In an effort to scale up the business response to HIV and Aids, NAC together with other key stakeholders in the private sector have intensified private sector participation and involvement in the national response with the development of the National Strategic Framework for the Private Sector Response to HIV and Aids, and sector specific policies.

 
To date, sectors for which HIV and Aids workplace policies have been developed include Mining, Transport, Agriculture, Motor Industry, Textile industry, Energy industry and the Public Service. The majority of workplace interventions have been implemented by large enterprises with minimal activity in the informal sectors where most workers are now employed.

 
Guided by the Zimbabwe National Aids Strategic Plan 2011-2015, NAC’s strategic focus is to provide guidance in developing and implementing comprehensive workplace programmes and mainstreaming in development projects. Sectors and organisations are expected to align their responses to their core mandates, operational policies and strategies. Consequently, HIV and Aids response dimensions should be integrated into all sector and corporate functions ranging from human resources, finance, policies, field operations, decision-making, planning process to socioeconomic performance and environmental impact assessments.

 
To ensure efficient and effective mainstreaming of HIV, operational guidelines and protocols on workplace policies and programmes have been developed and capacity of stakeholders strengthened. The Zimbabwe Statutory Instrument 202 of 98 and Statutory Instrument 64 of 2008 make it compulsory for all employers to have workplace HIV policies and programmes. Within the southern Africa region, the response to HIV in the workplace is also guided by the Sadc Code of Practice and Employment.  At the international level, the ILO Recommendation 200 concerning HIV and Aids and the World of Work reflects the need to strengthen workplace prevention efforts and to facilitate access to treatment for persons living with or affected by HIV.

 

These instruments call for development of workplace policies and programmes on HIV and Aids that respect the fundamental human rights of all workers, where workers are free from stigma and discrimination and including the observance of the principle of gender equality. It is important for workplaces to develop their own HIV and Aids policies that should reflect shared responsibility between management and labour in prevention and management of HIV and Aids at the workplace.

 

Vital and useful HIV and Aids prevention, care and support programmes should not only be seen as a social responsibility but as a mechanism for corporate survival. Sectors are expected to incorporate financial resources to support sectoral HIV mainstreaming in their regular budgets. Technical support will be provided to sectors to conduct sector specific HIV and Aids impact assessments that will also include assessment HIV prevalence.

 
Over the years, the National Aids Council has used various platforms to advocate for private sector participation and involvement in the national response to HIV and Aids. The Mine Entra is one of the platforms that has provided an opportunity to reach out to the decision makers in the Mining, Engineering and Transport sectors to appreciate the importance of HIV and Aids workplace programmes.

 
While it is necessary for all sectors to mainstream HIV and Aids, it is also strategic to prioritise mainstreaming sectors taking into account those sectors that will have the greatest impact on preventing new infections and or expanding opportunities for treatment, care and support. The mining and transport sectors in Zimbabwe are among some of the industries that have been hard hit by HIV and Aids.

 
The majority of mining operations in Zimbabwe are labour intensive with whole families living in mine housing on site. This creates a closed community which carries all risks such as serious health hazards including creation of sexual networks which then become major drivers of HIV in the sector. The working environment predisposes employees to HIV and opportunistic infections like TB and other lung diseases.

 
The transport sector on the other hand is among those more vulnerable to the HIV and Aids pandemic due to mobility of the workforce particularly truck drivers and their attendants. The employees often travel long distances and spend long periods away from their families. These working conditions and tendency for high risky sexual behaviour of transport industry employees make them very vulnerable to HIV infection.

 
Over the years in which the Nac has participated at the Mine Entra positive decisions have been made towards establishing or strengthening existing workplace programmes. At the 2012 Mine Entra exhibition, Nac won the third prize (Bronze) for the best exhibition. We attribute the winning of this prestigious prize to all the tremendous efforts by the various stakeholders and partners in the multi-sectoral response towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

 
The National Aids Council envisions a nation in which there is:
zero new HIV infections,
zero discrimination,
and zero Aids-related deaths.

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