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Zim workers in HIV crisis
The Mercury (South Africa)
May 09, 2005

Zimbabwe's workers have to pay 3% of their wages to the government to help fight HIV/Aids, but very little of that money returns to them. Now they are turning to international donors to fight the pandemic, the country's trade unions have said.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was reacting to a report by Zimbabwe's National Aids Council (NAC), released last week.

Nathan Banda, who heads the Health and Safety Project for the ZCTU, said: "(We) have plans, like counselling and support centres in many workplaces. However, we cannot get these to work because the government has continually denied us money from the NAC coffers."

The new NAC report noted the absence of co-ordinated strategies to help those affected by the disease, and said that small business operators and the informal sector were frequently excluded from government HIV/Aids care and prevention programmes.

The ZCTU attributed the rising incidence of HIV infection among workers to a lack of effective workplace management programmes aimed at the labour force.

In 1999, Zimbabwe imposed a tax on earnings to help pay for Aids-related health care costs. The tax was expected to bring in about R160 million annually.

But, the ZCTU said, very little of that money had trickled through to the workers.

Research conducted by the ZCTU in 2004 showed that one out of every four workers was HIV-positive, but Banda warned that this figure reflected only HIV prevalence among urban workers.

Dr Owen Mugorongi, an official in charge of HIV/Aids and TB programmes in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, conceded that the findings in the national report had been overtaken by developments since the research had been completed.

"We would like to fund every little programme that takes us a step forward in the fight against HIV/Aids, but we are facing serious financial problems, and programmes simply cannot take off," Mugorongi said.

The ZCTU has started applying to international donor organisations for direct funding for HIV/Aids workplace programmes. Over the next three years, the unions will need at least R9 million to set up and sustain drop-in assistance centres in workplaces. - Mercury Foreign Service

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