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AFRICA: IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS Briefs, 6 August

JOHANNESBURG, 6 August 2001 (PlusNews) - CONTENTS: SOUTH AFRICA: Court says workers can be tested for AIDS KENYA: New task force to change HIV/AIDS law ETHIOPIA: Orthodox church mobilises youth in fight against HIV/AIDS NIGERIA: Nigerian President urges condom use for military SOUTH AFRICA: Court says workers can be tested for AIDS The South African Labour Court has set a precedent for HIV/AIDS in the workplace by granting employers at a kaolin mine permission to test their workers for HIV/AIDS, reported the ‘Sunday Times’ newspaper. Director of Ndebele Mining Company, Leon Joubert, told IRIN on Monday that the mine’s intentions of bringing the application to the court were “totally honourable” and were meant to help employees to continue working productively. According to Joubert, most of the miners are aged between 20 and 49 and research has shown that 84 percent of those with HIV/AIDS fall into this age group. This prompted him to start an HIV/AIDS training and education programme, which would include voluntary HIV testing, but he was advised to first approach the Labour Court. The Employment Equity Act of 1998 states that no employer may require an employee, or an applicant for employment, to undertake a test in order to ascertain that employee’s HIV status. Yet employers may approach the Labour Court to obtain authorisation for testing. In his application, Joubert explained that the tests would not be a requirement before someone was hired and would be offered as part of a continuing education and management drive. Anyone who asked to be tested would be given comprehensive counselling, and those who tested positive would be given full expert counselling, to be paid for by management. The test results would be kept confidential, and the names of those who tested positive would be withheld from the rest of the workforce and management unless the workers concerned gave written consent for disclosure. However, staff would be encouraged to disclose positive results so that they could be helped. Mark Heywood, head of the AIDS law project, is reported as saying the court order was the first of its kind and the order granted to the company set a good precedent. He was quoted as saying, “The kind of action which, according to the court papers, is being undertaken at this mine is what all employers should be doing: education, encouraging voluntary testing, counselling and making reasonable accommodation for alternative work when necessary.” KENYA: New task force to change HIV/AIDS law The Kenyan government has launched a task force to examine laws relating to HIV/AIDS. Speaking at a Nairobi press conference last week attorney-general Amos Wako said the task force would look to reform the law in order to help prevent, manage and control the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The ‘Daily Nation’ quoted chair of the 11-member team, Ambrose Rachier, as saying: “My committee will ensure we come up with the necessary legal framework to fight the war against this scourge and the social problems it brings on our people.” The team’s mandate included examination of the legal aspects of HIV/AIDS related to marriage and to HIV infected mothers. Kenyan KTN radio quoted Wako as saying the task force could recommend that couples be required to take an AIDS test before marriage, and pregnant mothers could also have to take a test “to protect the unborn baby,” he said. However, the attorney-general added that the team was also required to ensure the observance of human rights and there was a need to “discourage discrimination of persons infected by the killer virus and those living with AIDS.” The team is also mandated to examine the law relating to drug access. In June the Kenyan parliament passed a law - the Industrial Property Bill - which could allow the government to import or manufacture cheaper copies of brand-name drugs, including the anti-retrovirals (ARVs) used in the drug cocktail used to fight AIDS. However, Indra van Gisbergen, a lawyer for the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines, told IRIN on Wednesday the government did not yet have a clear policy on how to put the legislation in to practice. “The Ministry of Health does not have an implementation plan,” she said. ETHIOPIA: Orthodox church mobilises youth in fight against HIV/AIDS The Ethiopian Orthodox church says it will mobilise 2.7 million Sunday school students to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, the state-run Walta Information Centre said. The head of the Sunday schools organising department of the Orthodox church told Walta that the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign would focus on preaching abstinence and fidelity, rather than promoting the use of condoms. He also said taking care of people living with the virus would be a major activity for the church. The Orthodox church says it has submitted plans to the National HIV/AIDS Council for a US $30 million comprehensive campaign aimed at saving the lives of more than 20 million youth. With its deeply conservative traditions, the Ethiopian Orthodox church had been criticised for not doing enough to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in rural parts of the country, a local activist told IRIN Friday. The latest announcement is seen as a positive development, the source said. NIGERIA: Nigerian President urges condom use for military President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has urged the country’s military commanders to provide their troops with free condoms to curb the spread of AIDS. “You must not allow AIDS to ravage our armed forces,” the Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying at a meeting of high-ranking officers in the south-western city of Ibadan. He promised that stocks of condoms would be provided in clinics at military barracks for distribution to military personnel - especially those going abroad on assignment. The president said that during his time in the army, it was an offence to contract a sexually-transmitted disease. “Now it’s only an offence if you conceal it,” he said. Obasanjo also urged authorities to draw up a code of conduct for the military and step up HIV/AIDS education and awareness programmes to educate soldiers about “illicit and unprotected sex.” Nigerian military commanders have disclosed that hundreds of soldiers returning from peacekeeping missions in such places as Liberia and Sierra Leone have been found to be infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, reports said.

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