‘Saving lives and livelihoods’ through AIDS awareness
By Kinita Shenoy
In commemoration of World Aids Day, the John Keells Holding (JKH) Group on Monday announced the adoption of its new HIV/AIDS workplace policy to create awareness and dispel discrimination, with its implementation throughout the group’s companies and business units in Sri Lanka.
This policy is the newest measure in the John Keells Group record of corporate social responsibility. Their projects have stretched beyond the organisation and its workforce, and have included neighbouring localities and villages. Its first HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign (HAAC) was launched in 2005, and established the company as the first in Sri Lanka to embark on HIV/AIDS awareness creation among varied communities including businesses, hotels, armed forces, prisons and educational institutions. Since then, the HAAC set another milestone by educating over 27,000 people within the country on AIDS and its related issues, being the first private entity in the country to reach such a large section of the populace. The conglomerate was also the principal local corporate sponsor for the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) held in Colombo in August 2007, bringing their contribution to an international forum.
The policy’s aim is to secure a conducive and accepting environment for the company’s entire staff dealing with HIV/AIDs, as well as to prevent any further spread of the disease, through comprehensive education of their personnel. It was created in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation’s code of practice on HIV/AIDS in workplaces. The four primary principles are recognition and acceptance of the disease, non- discrimination, confidentiality and prevention.
In preparation of the launch, the conglomerate formed Workplace Committees to implement the policy within all of its units, and coached 52 Master Trainers, who in turn conducted workshops and sessions to educate the staff. This was followed by each group under the John Keells banner formally adopting the policy and including all of its employees as signatories.
This is the first extensive measure actively taken by any firm in the country to establish awareness and prevention to the HIV/AIDS issue in their workplaces.
JKH Chairman Susantha Ratnayake, expressed his belief that the firm was showing great leadership through the implementation of its new policy, and went on to say that he felt a stigma-free place of work and treatment for patients should be “universally accessible, and a human right.”
He also stressed that the Workplace Committees were of critical importance, and were open forums that employees were encouraged to approach for advice and support. The committees also provide referrals to the government run STD clinics and services, which provide advanced anti-retroviral therapy (ART) that keep in check the spread of AIDS within the body.
According to The Global Fund’s recent estimate, the number of HIV positive patients in Sri Lanka is roughly 3,800, which places the country in the ‘low prevalence’ bracket according to UNAIDS classification.
Despite this, Dr. Sujatha Samarakoon of the National STD/AIDS Control Programme said that this was not cause for complacence as the number was “rising slowly but steadily each year”. She went on to stress the importance of prevention through awareness of safe sexual practices and avoidance of “risky behaviour.”
Doctor Samarakoon also lauded the John Keells Group’s initiative to promote understanding and methods of avoiding transmission, as well as dispelling myths and stigma in their workplaces.
The John Keells Group stressed its desire that their project set a precedent for other companies in the country to follow, and its unwavering belief that “education is the key to prevention of HIV and to enable persons living with HIV to continue their livelihoods through an effective Workplace Programme and Policy”.
Interested parties are encouraged to contact the John Keells Social Responsibility Foundation to hold awareness sessions for their own staff or members. Further information is available at http:/www.keells.com/focus-areas/health.html