Regional workshop to strengthen workplace response to combat HIV prevalence

Gangtok, 26 Sept (IPR): A two-day regional workshop on strengthening public private sector response in National AIDS Control Program (Phase IV) began in the capital today.

Organized by National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in partnership with Sikkim State AIDS Control Society (SSACS), the workshop is being held in Sikkim for the first time and has the participation from NACO officials, ILO officers, SACS officers from all the North Eastern states and partner organizations.

The workshop was formally inaugurated this morning by Health Minister AK Ghatani.

In his inaugural address, the Minister shared statistics on HIV/AIDS prevalence in the State and reiterated that it has been under control because of active intervention from all quarters and extensive focus on Information, Education and Communication.

He called for more effort to mobilize involvement of both public and private sector to strengthen HIV and AIDS prevention activities primarily for workers whether engaged in formal or informal sector.

He urged the officials and representatives of industries to give utmost priority to health and well-being of the employees.

He expressed hope that the workshop will be result-oriented and deliberate on every aspect of HIV intervention in the world of work, both in public and private sectors.

He urged all the participants to actively participate in the workshop so that the learnings can be translated into action on ground.

In conclusion, the Minister directed senior officers of the Health Department to formulate State-specific rules in line with the HIV/ AIDS (Prevention & Control) Act 2017 notified by NACO.

Speaking on the occasion, Zug Castillo Brigitte, Senior Technical Specialist, ILO, Geneva, stressed that workplaces have a vital role to play in mitigation of HIV and AIDS.

It is the place where we spend a better part of the day and adequate intervention at the workplace is crucial to tackle the challenge, she highlighted.

She also spoke on the importance of working in close coordination with the Government, agencies like the UN and ILO, NGOs and community-based organizations, and partners.

She added that the workshop would deliberate on the need for adequate awareness at the workplace and industries, and ways to address issues faced by HIV/AIDS infected people in the workforce.

Deputy Director General, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), Dr. Naresh Goel, in turn said that elimination of HIV/AIDS by 2030 features in the Sustainable Development Goals and added that it can be achieved if all stakeholders and partner agencies used their resources and contributed passionately.

Sharing recent data released by United Nations for poverty alleviation, Dr. Goel lauded Sikkim for achieving maximum reduction in poverty (over 80%) as compared to other States.

He added that factors such as low poverty rate, less disturbances and high per capita income (better prosperity) have kept the prevalence of HIV and AIDS under control in the State of Sikkim.

“All these factors make us believe that Sikkim will be the first State to eliminate HIV and AIDS way before 2030,” he stated.

He further said that the countrywide data released recently by NACO have shown encouraging decrease in new infection and prevalence of HIV and AIDS.

He said that NACO has also adopted the ‘fast track targets’ to be achieved by 2020. It advocates for raising the level of awareness among the public and the stakeholders, encourage people to go for testing, seek treatment if required, and adherence to the treatment.

Dr. Goel further said that the NACO model is evidence based, outcome focused, community driven and people centric, and involvement of partners is its mainstay. He added that a lot of public health initiatives use the NACO model.

He also shared two landmark developments at the policy level at NACO in the past two years. One is ‘Treatment for All’ (irrespective of CD4 counts) and the other is the HIV/AIDS (Prevention & Control) Act 2017 centred mostly around stigma and discrimination.

He urged the State AIDS Control Societies to create an environment in their respective States to formulate state-specific rules in line with the Act.

Earlier, Director, Health Services, Project Director, SSACS, Dr. Uttam Pradhan, in his welcome address, said that the State is taking all measures to mitigate the challenge of HIV and AIDS at the workplace.

He expressed hope that this workshop would help sensitize the industries and other stakeholders to prioritize activities in their respective workplaces.

The inaugural session had the presence and participation of Principal Director Health Dr. Pempa Tshering Bhutia, Member Secretary, Sikkim State Legal Services Authority, Suraj Chettri, senior officers of the Tourism and Labour Departments, Government of Sikkim, senior officers from NACO and ILO, officers of State AIDS Control Society of all North Eastern States, members of NGOs and representatives from various Industries.

The workshop will deliberate topics like data analysis of positivity trends, global experiences, mainstreaming HIV in different Departments, sharing of good practices in Industries, HIV/AIDS Act 2017, NACO strategy on world of work response, experience by SACS on partnering with industries, access to services, and state specific action points to strengthen world of work response.

The participants are also scheduled to visit National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) Ltd Teesta-V Power Station, Baluatar in East Sikkim on the concluding day of the workshop to understand the perspective and level of commitment and support of the management.