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Sierra Rutile highlights business’s role in fight against HIV/AIDS on World Aids Day

Sierra Rutile highlights business’s role in fight against HIV/AIDS on World Aids Day

Sierra Rutile’s (SRL) HIV/AIDS workplace programme has the potential to set standards for public/private partnership in the delivery of healthcare, according to a study carried out by the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat in Sierra Leone  and released on World AIDS Day (1 December).

As the first mining company in Sierra Leone to develop a workplace programme on HIV/AIDS which meets global standards, Sierra Rutile commissioned the research to assess the programme’s impact on rates of HIV/AIDS among its staff and contractors (SSGI and ATS).  With the GOSL’s Agenda for Prosperity emphasising the need for workplace policies giving people living with HIV the right to work and receive treatment, the findings of the research are relevant to the whole business community.

The study is based on a survey of 334 staff working for Sierra Rutile and its contractors conducted last year, with additional information from focus group discussions and key informant interviews.  Results show that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among Sierra Rutile staff and its contractors has stabilised at 2.4% since 2007, indicating that the programme is proving effective against the spread of the disease.

Abdul Rahman Sessay, Deputy Director of the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat, says:  “The stabilisation of Sierra Rutile’s prevalence rate at 2.4% is a big achievement.  The company has invested its own resources beyond the confines of its workplace to target the community. This has helped in stabilising the disease.   The effect of additional interventions, such as workers’ education and the provision of HIV/AIDS treatment and services, not only to its workforce but to the community, will mean that infection rates will continue to drop.”

The survey shows that respondents are well informed about the transmission of HIV with 97% identifying unprotected sex as a major cause of infection; 49% also know that injections with non-sterile needles or contaminated sharps can transmit the virus; 47% identified transfusion with infected blood, and 14% know that the virus can be transmitted from infected mother to child during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. The majority (77%) of respondents were aware that correct and consistent use of condoms during sex with multiple partners can prevent infection, being faithful to an uninfected partner (55%), and the use of sterile instruments (33%).

The SRL clinic is the main source of information on HIV/AIDS for 69% of respondents; 25% acquired their knowledge from the media and 6% from friends. Underscoring the clinic’s importance are results which show that almost three quarters (74%) of the respondents are aware that confidential HIV testing is available from the SRL clinic, and 84% trust the SRL clinic for its strict adherence to confidentiality. The clinic is also a major source of condoms; 58% say it is easy to access condoms at the workplace and 81% of the condoms used were obtained from the work place, with the clinic accounting for 69% and the offices 12%.

Encouragingly discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS is in the minority. Two-thirds of respondents believe that HIV positive employees should be reassured of continuing employment and their status kept confidential, and over two-thirds (69%) of the respondents are willing to shake hands, hug and share a meal with a person with HIV. Disturbingly however, 31 % reported that they would have nothing to do with a person with HIV, and the company is intensifying efforts to address issues of stigma and discrimination.

Commenting on the survey results Ansumana Jabati, Sierra Rutile’s Environment, Health and Safety Manager, said: “This survey shows how Sierra Rutile’s co-ordinated response to HIV/AIDS in the workplace is having a positive effect. It is encouraging to note that there is increasingly widespread awareness and understanding of HIV and AIDS among our staff and contractors. The Government’s goals are to achieve zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2018; the business community has to join Government to invest in the HIV/AIDS response today, in order to avoid paying the price forever.”

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