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Attacking Pandemics Through Work-place Policy - THISDAY

Attacking Pandemics Through Work-place Policy 03.04.2010

The three pandemics of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria affect all segments of the society, especially women and youth who are the current workforce. As a result, some experts recently agreed that any organisation that is not prepared to tackle these health challenges will most likely experience some adverse effects on organisational productivity. ROLAND OGBONNAYA writes

A couple of years ago, General Yakubu Gowon while delivering a speech in Kigali, capital city of Rwanda, at the inauguration of the board of Friends of The Global Fund Africa, said the three pandemics: AIDS/Tuberculosis and Malaria pose great economic and health danger in Africa.

In Africa, the three pandemics of HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria have staggering social and economic consequences as part of the boarder development crisis. These diseases undermine our African productive capacities, perpetuate poverty, exacerbate social problems, overwhelm health services, and threaten national security. The impact of these diseases is disproportionately felt in Africa, rendering many of our children parent-less, our schools teacher-less, broken family structures, lose of land, labour and so on, he said.

This stark reality was further heightened with a study carried out by World Economic Forum (WEF) on Business Response to AIDS, TB and Malaria, as they surveyed 153 Nigerian private sector firms. The result was staggering: 53 per cent said that HIV/AIDS was affecting their current business operations, while 88 per cent said they expect HIV/AIDS to impact their business operations in the next five years.

In addition, 58 per cent said they expect malaria to impact their business operations in the next five years whereas 67 per cent expected TB to impact their business operation in the next five years just as 61 per cent said they did not have an HIV/AIDS workplace policy.

It is based on these, that Friends Africa, a non-profit organisation that works primarily to mobilise strategic financial and political support for the fight against the three pandemics, through high level multi-sectoral advocacy and documentation, organised a two-day Workplace Policies Workshop on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria with the theme: Empowering Companies to Strengthen and Develop Workplace Policies.

The event which was sponsored by Access Bank and supported by National Agency For The Control of AIDS (NACA), Global Business Coalition on HIV/ AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GBC) and Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS (NIBUCAA) was declared open by the wife of the Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola. The workshop had the main objective of increasing the number of Nigerian private sector firms who are willing to implement workplace health policies, to strengthen existing workplace policies and programmes in Nigerian private sector firms (SMEs) covering the countrys sic geo-political zones.

The workshop has become critically essential because statistics reveal that 2/3 of HIV infected persons are in the economically productive group. This poses a risk to health, since work situations and conditions exposes a worker to HIV/AIDS as well as the fact that the workplace brings about collaboration between employers, workers, government in addressing HIV/AIDS issues. It will not be out of place therefore for stakeholders to agree to a policy.

The policy is targeted at all employers, employees and prospective employees, all workplaces and contracts of employment, all human resource policies and practices of any organisation and all self employed persons and worker in the informal sector. This policy covers key areas like: prevention of HIV infection, impact mitigation care and support, elimination of stigma and discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV status, gender equality, strategies for workplace response to HIV/AIDS and grievance procedure.

While giving her support for the workshop, Mrs. Fashola in her speech further joined the call on the private sector to unite and respond adequately to these pandemics, while urging organisers of the workshop to equally mobilise the public sector in fashioning out a proper workplace policy on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede, managing director, Access Bank Plc and Chairman Friends Africa as well as a leading voice in the private sector for the fight against the three pandemics, in his speech at the event said: It is our responsibility as private sector to take action and join forces with the public sector in addressing these pandemics.

By actively engaging our companies in workplace policies that address HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, we enrich and empower the Nigerian workforce to address issues on stigma and discrimination, Aig-Imokhuede who was represented by Mr. Ebenezer Olufowose, executive director, investment banking, Access Bank, said.

At the end of the two day workshop which was held at Protea Hotel along Lekki Expresway, and attended mainly by human resource managers in organisations from the small medium enterprises. Participants came out with increased knowledge of AIDS, TB and Malaria (ATM) in workplace, increased accessibility in the workplace to ATM treatment and prevention programmes in Nigeria, as well as increased engagement and involvement of the private sector in addressing AIDS, TB and Malaria.

The workshop is expected to be held in other geopolitical zones of the country. According to the CEO/Founder of Friends Africa, Dr. Akudo Anyanwu-Ikemba the workshop aims at building capacities of the private sector and other interested organisations in the fight by sharing and disseminating the output of our various research and documentation projects, to support workplace policies and programmes for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Hence, well be having the same workshop in Minna, Niger State by the end of February and in March at Enugu, Enugu State this year.

Friends Africa carries out Advocacy to effectively increase awareness and funding for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We mobilize resources through international and traditional donors, as well as on a national and community level.

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THISDAY investigation showed that Friends Africas advocacy also influences policy change to allow for a favourable environment to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It also conducts effective advocacy to the north for increases in overseas development assistance (ODA) as well as engaging the African private sector in the design and development of specialised programmes that leverage a companys assets, business skills, and networks to tailor a unique response to the three diseases.

Friends Africa also engages African-based media to maximise exposure of the fight against the diseases and the role of the Global Fund. We also carry out advocacy on African governments to increase spending in the health sector, particularly in line with their pledge in Abuja 2001 to commit 15 per cent of their annual budget to healthcare and in providing the counterpart funding required for accessing Global Fund grants in middle income countries.

It would be recalled that in 2006, Friends Africa engaged Nigeria's top 50 CEOs in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by hosting a dinner where they met with the Global Fund to discuss areas of engagement in Global Fund projects through in-country co-investment and cash contributions amongst others. The organisation also facilitated the signing of a $49 million grant between the Global Fund and three Nigeria civil society organisations and arranged site visits for the delegation to Global Fund projects in Lagos.

In 2008 also, Friends Africa participated through speaking engagements at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development with the theme From Okinawa to Tokyo: Dealing with Communicable Diseases as a Global Human Security Threat organised by Friends Japan. The symposium gathered key stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil-society to discuss future international contributions that Japan can make to improve global health and fight the three diseases. Friends Africa also formed part of the Global Fund delegation at the conference held from May 28 to 30, 2008.

The organisations board members as well as major stakeholders such as African governments, private sector and the public sector engage in advocacy visits. These visits are an opportunity to evaluate the progress of the work of the Global Fund in various African countries as well as to observe the areas that require more funding.

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