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MALAWI: AIDS awareness focuses on men at work

Blantyre, 10 September 2002 (PlusNews) - AIDS activists in Malawi have launched a new awareness programme that targets men at their workplaces.

"We have been targeting women in a society where men make decisions. If you want to reach more men, you have to go to their workplaces," Jenni Mueller, the programme manager for development Aid from People to People, told PlusNews.

The workplace programme is intended to build institutional capacity for an effective response to the epidemic.

"We're looking at developing policies that prevent managers from discriminating against employees who are infected with HIV. It protects both the employer and employee. You can already see people changing their behaviour if their managers support them because they have policies that support them," Mueller said.

A new HIV/AIDS assessment study conducted by the government and the World Bank showed that the most affected sectors were education and health.

Malawi's Vice President Justin Malewezi told PlusNews: "We cannot lose any more time in responding to the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS. Probably one of the most important lessons to be learnt by all sectors is the consequence of inaction or complacency. There is need for all companies to take action now."

More than one million Malawians are living with HIV/AIDS, with an estimated infection rate of 30 percent of the urban population between the ages of 14 and 45.

Joseph Chaima, the coordinator for HIV/AIDS workplace education and policy for the NGO Project Hope, said one of the ways of getting the message across was by forming drama groups within companies.

"The purpose is to provide HIV/AIDS information through plays," Chaima said, adding that the actors were expected to also spread the word within their communities.

The high mobility of workers and migrant labour, both within Malawi and across its borders, was another causal factor in the spread of AIDS.

"Many men have jobs where they have to travel. It's a big problem because they meet casual partners," Mueller said.

A recent UN Development Programme report said that unprotected sex with multiple partners was fuelling the spread of the virus.

"However, societal acceptance of multiple sex partners as an expression of male sexuality and masculinity limits behaviour change. In addition, sex with multiple partners is often unprotected due to the lack of access to condoms," the report said.

Mueller said one of the priorities of the workplace programme was teaching people how to use condoms correctly.

"We give them the skills to be able to use the condoms correctly until they feel comfortable even using it [condom] with one hand. If we can get them to use condoms not with their wives but with their girlfriends, that's a big achievement," she said.

Theme (s): Other,

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

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Irish Aid
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation - SDC