THE Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) will soon release guidelines for companies on how to address the occurrence of Human immunodeficiency virus/Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/Aids) in the workplace.

The draft memorandum “Guidelines for the Implementation of HIV/Aids Prevention, Policy and Program in the Workplace” will be submitted next week to Labor Secretary Marianito Roque for approval.

The guidelines will focus on information and education, integration of HIV policy on the companies’ Occupation and Safety Health (OSH) standards, training of personnel, establishment of an HIV/Aids center, and voluntary distribution of condoms, among others.

“The program is also in deference to the provisions stated in Republic Act 8504 or the Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998,” said Dr. Ma. Teresita Cucueco, OIC - Executive Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Center of Dole.

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A June 2008 survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that only 26 percent or equivalent to 6,368 out of 24,457 companies in the Philippines had set-up HIV/Aids policies and programs.

A similar move was done by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to address the issue of HIV/Aids in government offices but the draft circular has yet to pass the approval of the CSC board.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) said the disease increases business costs like increased burden of healthcare provision, lower productivity of infected employees, increased risks in the workplace and indifference among employees.

TUCP also expressed concern over reports highlighting the call center industry as an HIV/Aids hotspot, which the group said created “stigma and “discrimination” to the industry in general.

“Working in a call center does not automatically mean that you can get HIV. It is the risky behavior that individuals engage in, such as having unprotected sex, use infected syringes by drug users, etc. These make individuals vulnerable to contracting the virus,” TUCP said in a statement.

During the press briefing at the TUCP headquarters in Quezon City, two companies presented their HIV/Aids programs.

Standard Chartered Bank and Amkor Technology highlighted on their information, education, services and commodities available at their workplace with regards to HIV/Aids prevention and mitigation.

“We focus on prevention through peer education and we are happy that our program is very much in place,” Anne de la Torre, Corporate Services Head of Standard Chartered said.

De la Torre added that the company is tying up with international organization AIESEC and other organizations not related to Standard Chartered for the information campaign.

“We had it free of charge in developing HIV/Aids education.”

Cabral defends condoms anew

In a related development, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral reiterated that “investment” in condoms is better than spending a lot of money for treating the Aids disease.

Cabral said a piece of condom only cost around P7 while maintenance drugs for an Aids victim can reach hundreds of thousands a year.

A patient’s antiretroviral treatment course for a month alone was estimated to cost about P60,000.

Cabral added that “consistent and proper use” of condoms guarantee 85 percent effectivity in preventing the spread of the HIV, which could lead to Aids.

“The 10 to 15 percent failure rate was because people used them incorrectly. Studies show those who use condoms have ten times more protection than those who don’t,” Cabral said.

The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) repeatedly asked Cabral to resign over the distribution of free condoms but the secretary maintained that she will only vacate her post if President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a devout Catholic, told her to do so.

Cabral also found a new ally on the TUCP after it praised her “will power” to face the HIV/Aids issue “head-on, despite strong oppositions from the Catholic hierarchy.”

Records of the Department of Health (DOH) showed that 4,569 HIV cases were registered in the country from 1984 to January 2010. Most of the recent cases belong to the 20 to 39 years old age group or young professionals.

The health chief has earlier announced an HIV/Aids summit on April 12 and has invited church leaders and pro-life groups to attend the event. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)