AIDS Conference: HIV tests at the workplace

First Published – 10 Nov 2008

BUSINESSES should provide their employees with testing facilities for Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), a regional authority on the issue has suggested.

Dr Prasada Rao (picture), director of the UNAID Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, said such a move would be in the interests of the firm and its staff.

“If an employee is found to be HIV-positive, rather than lose a good worker, the company can make alternative work plans, like flexible hours or allocating work to other staff when he is away from work,” he told Today.

“With early intervention, many people with HIV can live a healthy life for five to 10 years before they need anti-retroviral treatment.”

Dr Rao is in town for the 6th Singapore AIDS Conference held on Saturday at the Suntec Convention Centre. In his keynote speech, he is expected to call on the Government and businesses to be more proactive in tackling the spread of HIV/Aids.

The conference aims to tackle the stigma surrounding the disease and to help fight discrimination faced by HIV sufferers, as well as their loved ones.

HIV tests at the workplace could be tough for many to swallow — who would want their employer knowing that they had an STI, such as Aids? Would staff found to be HIV-positive be given the sack or shunned?

Dr Rao said it was “internationally accepted” that any employee dismissed for such reasons can seek legal redress. But in addition, tackling such discrimination is where government education programmes are most needed.

“Apart from educating the public, governments need to be proactive with chambers of commerce and small business associations to disseminate information about HIV/Aids,” he said.

Ms Susie Solomon, executive director of Business Coalition On Aids In Singapore, thinks that testing facilities at the workplace is “premature at this stage” for Singapore.

“Testing is a great idea if society were more open. Unfortunately, HIV/Aids is still very much a taboo. If companies want to implement this, I would encourage anonymous testing where privacy is maintained between the doctor and the employee,” she said.

Ms Solomon, who conducts workplace programmes on Aids, says that employers very often do not know what to do with an HIV-positive employee, which is why it is “important to educate people”.

The authorities in Singapore have been active in doing this. Last July, Senior Minister of State Balaji Sadavisan led a study team to Sydney to learn about Australian best practices in fighting HIV and Aids.

Dr Rao also called on the Government to reach out especially to high-risk groups in the community.

He added that government funding for Aids awareness groups within civil society would help them to carry out their programmes. He is of the opinion that a more effective approach is a combination of messages on abstinence, safe sex and condom availability.

“Condom vending machines should be more available in Singapore — in public toilets, hotels, airports, even restaurants.

“It’s a false notion that condom vending machines encourage promiscuity.”