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From maiser@mail.icftu.org Fri Jun 29 13:30:43 2001
From: Press <press@icftu.org>
To: ICFTU Online <icftu-online@mail.icftu.org>
Subject: ICFTU Online: UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2001 17:51:08 +0200
Sender: maiser@mail.icftu.org

UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York: UN Declaration calls for fighting HIV/AIDS in the workplace

ICFTU Online..., 123/290601/GA, 29 June 2001

New York, 29 June (ICFTU OnLine): The United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS has concluded its work with the adoption of a landmark document, The Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS : Global Crisis—Global Action, which views HIV/AIDS not only as a medical issue, but as a threat to political stability, economic growth and human rights.

We are encouraged by the fact that Heads of State recognize the devastating scale and impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, said Cunningham Ngcukana, General Secretary of NACTU South Africa, commenting on the Declaration. Now that governments have declared HIV/AIDS a global emergency, and ’one of the most formidable challenges to human life and dignity’, they must work in a concerted way to honour the commitments agreed to in the Declaration. They must involve the social partners, trade unions and employers, and community-based groups in comprehensive programmes aimed at combating this disease, said Ngcukana.

A trade union delegation of six persons from ICTU, ICFTU-AFRO, NACTU, AFL-CIO and NOTU (Uganda) participated actively in the deliberations over the three days of the Special Session, 25-27 June, presenting the trade union views at various events, notably: a high-level Roundtable on the Socio-economic Impact of HIV/AIDS, a Press Conference given by Juan Somavia, Director General of the ILO to launch the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS, and a Panel Discussion on HIV/AIDS in the Workplace.

The trade union message, communicated at these and other meetings, focused on the need to view the workplace as a key venue in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Given the centrality of the world of work in the lives of families and communities, workplaces can be promoted as centers for a continuum of care, encompassing prevention, treatment, care and support. The workplace is ideally suited for this purpose, said Juliette Lenoir of the AFL-CIO and a member of the delegation, not least because the workplace is likely to act as a magnet for workers’ families, extended families and friends in their communities. Trade unionists welcomed the fact that the notion of utilizing the workplace as a platform for the effective fight against HIV/AIDS gained recognition in the course of the deliberations, especially in light of the inadequate health infrastructure in many developing countries, and the urgent need for physical centers for dispensing anti-retroviral and other HIV/AIDS related drugs, such as those used to treat opportunistic infections, and to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Awareness and education programmes aimed at understanding transmission of the disease as a basis for prevention, and at removing stigmatization and discrimination, were considered to be important components of such a continuum of care.

The workplace perspective on the fight against HIV/AIDS was further reinforced by the launching of the ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work on 25 June at a Press Conference, in which Juan Somavia presented the code as a comprehensive set of guidelines for dealing with the challenges of combating HIV/AIDS through its workplace dimensions, including respect for the principles of social dialogue, prevention, care and support strategies, social protection of workers living with HIV/AIDS, fighting discrimination, and ensuring gender equality. Somavia explained that the code which was based on internationally agreed principles and standards, was developed by the ILO and its tripartite constituents, and adopted by the Governing Body in June, 2001. The code can be an instrument for advocacy, explained Somavia, and for strengthening the involvement of the private sector in the fight against HIV/AIDS. National policy makers and workplace partners can use it for the development of national programmes, enterprise policies, and collective agreements.

Trade unionists agreed that the Code of Practice provided a necessary complement to the section of the Declaration dealing with human rights, which sets a target of 2003 for the strengthening and enforcement of appropriate legislation, regulations and other measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against, and to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people living with HIV/AIDS and members of vulnerable groups; in particular to ensure their access to, inter alia education, inheritance, employment, health care, social and health services, prevention, support, treatment, information and legal protection, while respecting their privacy and confidentiality; and develop strategies to combat stigma and social exclusion connected with the epidemic. Disappointingly, the Declaration fails to mention specific human rights treaties and instruments.

On a more positive note, the Declaration effectively mainstreams gender issues which are critical to combating HIV/AIDS, and has a strong focus on youth and the protection of children. The need for effective mobilization of resources at national and international levels is acknowledged, and in that context, calls are made for effective debt relief of poor countries and for increased ODA in line with UN targets, as means of making resources available. The Declaration endorsed the establishment of a global HIV/AIDS health fund to assist Governments in their efforts to combat the disease, and proposes a world-wide, fund-raising campaign to raise resources for the fund.

In the spirit of the Declaration, and recognizing the need for solidarity and the forging of partnerships in the fight against HIV/AIDS, trade unionists networked in strategy sessions with NGOs, community-based organizations, research groups, and organizations of people living with AIDS, from many countries. Discussions in some of these gatherings centred on the work-place approaches adopted by ICFTU-AFRO since the adoption of the Gabarone Declaration of September 2000, on Involving Workers in Fighting HIV/AIDS in the Workplace, and a Framework of Action, and stimulated much interest. Trade unionists came away from the Special Session determined to promote the Declaration, to keep governments accountable to the commitments made, and to spare no efforts in working pro-actively at national and international levels to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS.