AIDS Winning the Battle?

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By Anna Ingwafa WINDHOEK NAMIBIA is expected to lose 35.1 percent of its workforce by the year 2020. This is according to the projection of the International Labour Organization. The National Planning Commission estimates that the direct and indirect medical care costs of HIV/AIDS to the national economy will amount to N$ 8.5 billion by 2010. This estimate was echoed by the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Peter Ilonga on behalf of Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Alpheus !Naruseb on the occasion of commemorating World Aids Day at the ministry’s head offices last week. Addressing the subject ‘HIV/AIDS at the Workplace’, Ilonga said HIV/AIDS should be treated like any other serious illness in the workplace. “This is necessary not only because it affects the workforce, but also because the workplace being part of the local community has a role to play in the wider struggles to limit the spread and effects of the epidemic.” He added that in order to implement HIV/AIDS policies and programmes in labour, it requires cooperation and trust between employers, workers and their representatives. His ministry is in close consultation with employers and trade union representatives in line with the 1997 National Code on HIV/AIDS in employment. He urged the workers to read the National Code on HIV/AIDS so that though one is infected, one should continue to work under normal conditions of current work for as long as one is medically fit. “The code also provides that when the employees are too sick to perform their agreed functions, the standard benefits, conditions and procedures for termination of services for comparable life-threatening conditions apply without discrimination. The code stipulates that a person infected with HIV should be protected from stigmatization and discrimination by co-workers and employers’ clients.” Speaking at the same occasion, President of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) Risto Kapenda pointed out that the emergence of the virus and its effects are essentially race, class and gender based. “The question of race, class and gender are so inextricably linked given our colonial past of apartheid capitalism and present day income and wealth disparities. Black people are more affected than the whites and the explanation to this is their poverty. Women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and the only explanation to this is their gender roles in society, which have invariably kept most of them in abject poverty and social exclusion,” Kapenda said. The President of the Namibian Employers’ Federation Harold Pupkewitz shared his views on how the pandemic affects productivity, and what the employers, employees and the Government should do to mitigate the impacts of increased costs of government money by buying anti-retroviral drugs, increased cost of human resource development and an unproductive workforce where firms’ output declines as increasingly lower levels of productivity are delivered and the costs of running businesses rise.