When a distressed and distraught patient complained that, as part of her job-required physical, she had to submit herself to blood tests that included mandatory HIV-antibody screening and sign a document agreeing that the results should go to her new potential employer (a well-known international company), I telephoned her human resources manager. He confirmed that it was company policy for the HIV-antibody test to be included in the ‘routine’ physical and explained that the patient was on probationary employment.
I found it shocking and deeply disturbing to learn that several businesses and institutions of learning still insist on ‘routine physicals’ that include HIV-antibody testing as a precondition for consideration for employment or admission for studies. Under those circumstances, HIV-antibody testing has absolutely no merit and, therefore, can only serve to be discriminatory.
HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted through casual contact. It cannot be transmitted during the preparation of food. It cannot be transmitted by contact with tears, saliva, sputum, sweat, urine or even faeces – unless they contain blood. Working alongside people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) is perfectly safe because, during the course of everyday social interaction, no one comes into contact with blood, semen, vaginal secretions, synovial, cerebrospinal, peritoneal, pericardial or amniotic fluids.
PLWHA are not a burden or liability to their employer or institution of learning. Patients with the condition do not miss work or school more than HIV-negative individuals. HIV/AIDS is now categorised as a chronic infectious disease. Even the Embassy of the United States of America no longer screens permanent-visa applicants for HIV/AIDS. It is treatable (though not curable at this time) and HIV/AIDS is covered by the National Health Fund.
should not be required
The International Labour Organisation’s Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work categorically states, “HIV/AIDS screening should not be required of job applicants or persons in employment.” The Caribbean Tripartite Council/Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS – Model Caribbean Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS stipulates under HIV screening, recruitment and employment that: “The organisation will not compel an employee or a job applicant to disclose his or her HIV or AIDS status, or that of any other person.”
Locally, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the Cabinet – HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy (December 2008), speaks to non-discrimination at the workplace. The Ministry of Labour has a Workplace Policy that was passed in Parliament in February 2010, which clearly states that there should be no workplace HIV-antibody testing (whether for pre-employment screening, pre-contractual screening, for promotions or renewal of work contracts). The Ministry of Health is currently in the process of finalising its HIV policy from the perspective of the workplace.
Then there is the Jamaican Network of Seropositives – JN+. Its mission statement is: ‘To advocate for the rights and concerns of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, through empowerment partnership and resource mobilisation.” Its website, http://www.jnplus.org, has a discrimination reporting form that may be used by, or on behalf of anyone, regardless of his/her HIV status, who “believes he/she has experienced or witnessed HIV-related mistreatment, abuse or discrimination”.
It is not uncommon to have illicit affairs and casual sexual encounters at workplaces, secondary and (especially) tertiary institutions. On Friday, April 29, Jamaica committed to eliminating stigma, discrimination and gender inequality affecting our HIV/AIDS response; so, instead of demanding pre-employment and pre-admission HIV-antibody testing (totally devoid of reason, legitimacy and counselling), workplaces and institutions of learning should join the fight against HIV/AIDS in a meaningful way by providing access to intensive and sustained preventative educational programs.
Garth A. Rattray is a physician with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.