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MOZAMBIQUE: Workers in the forefront of fight against HIV/AIDS

The role workers can play in the fight against HIV/AIDS came into sharp focus during May Day celebrations in Mozambique.

The Organisation of Mozambican Workers (OTM), the country's main trade union, used the traditional Workers' Day march on 1 May as a platform to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

OTM secretary-general Joaquim Fanheiro told IRIN Mozambique's workforce has been hard hit by HIV/AIDS. Productive people are critical to the country's development, but they are being decimated by the disease. About 1.5 million Mozambicans are HIV positive and it is estimated that 14.9 percent of Mozambicans in the productive age group of 15 to 49 are living with virus.

In 2002, Mozambique passed legislation on HIV/AIDS in the workplace, making it illegal to discriminate against workers, or dismiss them, because of their HIV status.

Between August 2001 and February this year the Ministry of Industry ran a pilot HIV/AIDS prevention project in 42 small and medium companies in Maputo, Beira, Nampula and Tete provinces. The four provinces have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country.

The project reached 2,300 employees raising their awareness about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.

During monthly awareness sessions, workers learnt about HIV prevention, the importance of counselling and voluntary testing, positive living, antiretrovirals (ARVs), as well as stigmatisation and discrimination. Peer educators were trained to carry on the sensitisation work after the project came to an end.

Twenty-three-year Eduardo Adolfo, a waiter in a restaurant in the capital Maputo, was one of those who was trained as a peer educator.

The owner of the restaurant where Adolfo works allows him and fellow peer educators to run hour-long group HIV/AIDS awareness sessions twice a month. However, Adolfo said most of his colleagues find the one-on-one sessions with him more useful.

"People are still shy to talk about these things in a group," he said.

When the project began in the restaurant, the owner announced that he was going to get himself tested. "He was a role model and afterwards about half of the workers got themselves tested. I accompanied them if they wanted moral support," Adolfo told IRIN.

"The question most of my colleagues ask me is what happens if they test HIV positive since all the free ARV programmes are full and they cannot afford to pay for ARVs themselves," he noted. Most of his colleagues earn the minimum wage of Meticais 1.1 million (about US $55).

Mozambique has about 7,000 people living with HIV/AIDS on free triple therapy ARV treatment through its public health system.

Although a major achievement for one of the world's poorest countries, it is only a small proportion of the estimated 200,000 people eligible for treatment.

Adolfo said, "I try to tell my colleagues that they need to think more about living positively rather than [viewing] antiretrovirals as the only solution."

One of his ex-colleagues can no longer work due to an AIDS-related illness and Adolfo believes targeting workers alone is not enough. "I would like to do more work with the families of the workers ... but there are no funds for that," Adolfo explained.

Theme (s): Economy,

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

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