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EAST AFRICA: CEOs lead by example, take public HIV tests

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
The CEOs hope that by testing, they will encourage their staff to get tested for HIV
KAMPALA, 18 November 2010 (PlusNews) - At least 40 East African chief executive officers (CEOs) recently took public HIV tests, a move designed to show their commitment to fighting HIV in the workplace in an increasingly integrated region.

"The objective was to encourage them [CEOs] to be role models, to plan properly for the future but also to plan for employees who are HIV-positive," said Rosemary Ssenabulya, executive director of the Federation of Uganda Employees.

"As a CEO it [taking an HIV test] makes it easier to decide that an HIV policy is set out and workers are encouraged to test too; after testing I encouraged all my staff to test," she added.

The event was organized in Kampala by the East African Business Council (EABC) and the German NGO GTZ. It involved CEOs from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, which have a total population of over 120 million.

"Businesses must recognize how much the wage bill is impacted by the HIV epidemic, a condition that predisposes the affected individual to any infection they come in contact with due to a compromised immune system," said Lillian Awinja, the GTZ adviser to EABC on HIV and health.

In recent years, companies in the region have developed workplace HIV policies to prevent HIV as well as care for HIV-infected employees, but statistics show that many businesses are lagging behind. The Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), for instance, reports that just 47 out of 751 registered companies have HIV workplace policies.

"We have a big workforce which is vulnerable and illiterate about HIV," said Mustapher Ssebaggala, the executive director of UMA. "We want a healthy work force and we targeted CEOs because we believe the fish rots from the head."

A 2010 EABC and GTZ study of the chemical, manufacturing and hotel sectors in East Africa found that HIV was not mentioned as a primary concern by any of the companies interviewed. The authors recommended integrating occupational safety and health policies with HIV policies to ensure workers had access to HIV prevention, care and treatment; they further recommended the sharing of best-practices between companies with well-developed HIV policies and those with newer ones.

''We want a healthy workforce and we targeted CEOs because we believe the fish rots from the head''
In July, the East African Common Market Protocol was launched, allowing free movement of labour, capital, goods and services within the region. Senior business figures attending the event noted that this would require more integrated efforts to fight HIV.

According to David Kihumuro Apuuli, director-general of the Uganda AIDS Commission, East African businesses have a duty to fund the fight against HIV in the region. He hoped local businesses could set up an HIV trust fund where all private sector companies pool resources and contribute to funding of HIV programmes.

East Africa's nations all have generalized epidemics, with HIV prevalence ranging from 2 percent in Burundi to 7 percent in Kenya.


Theme(s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Education, Governance, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Prevention - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews, Urban Risk,

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

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