By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Basically all employees in the Ministry of Education are in one way or another infected and/or affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is sowing havoc in the country. With these words the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Vitalis Ankama, yesterday officially opened a four-day conference on HIV/AIDS in the workplace. About 30 senior managers in the education sector are attending the workshop that ends Friday. “Absenteeism and employee attrition due to the AIDS pandemic impact negatively on productivity, employee benefits, production costs and work morale. Notwithstanding this, the Ministry of Education has a moral duty and responsibility to ensure that its employees and students/learners have access to care, support and treatment,” said Ankama. According to him, his ministry should give unmistaken evidence that it is a caring and concerned employer to show its humanity and to promote good labour relations. “The ministry recognises that morbidity and mortality among teachers, managers and other sector personnel undermine its ability to attain its educational objectives, hence the fact that it would like to take steps to pre-empt this negative outcome. The education sector cannot separate itself from health concerns, neither can it divorce itself from the provision of social services. It must make its own characteristic response as a provider of services by facilitating and enabling access to health, social and legal services,” the PS said. He proposed posting personnel to stations where they can access AIDS care for themselves and their dependants; that staff issues arising from HIV/AIDS are dealt with quickly, fairly and confidentially; protecting staff against overloading by speedy replacements in case of teacher mortality; investigating ways to replace sick or absent teachers; in cooperation with partners, providing accessible health and VTC services; providing counselling, psycho-social and spiritual support for employees, students and learners and providing home-based care for employees and their families. “The other role of the education sector is to provide information for its personnel, students and learners on behaviour change and prevention programmes that are part of its HIV/AIDS workplace programmes, which has become a matter of urgency. This conference is aimed at creating an understanding that a healthy and happy workforce is more productive than an unhealthy and unhappy one,” he said.
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