HIV And The Workplace In Guyana – One Man`s Experience With Stigma And Discrimination

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By Elan Era John
PANOS Global

CaribWorldNews, GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Fri. Dec. 10, 2010: Jayden, not his real name, is in his mid 20s and he is HIV positive. He is also gay.  Jayden, who lives in Georgetown, wants to know why people behave the way they do towards him.  He wonders why he cannot be respected for being a human being.

`I am considered to be damaged goods,` he says.  His experiences at work and getting other services convince him of this.

He remembers feeling `lucky` a few years ago when he had just finished school and found a job.   But his employers knew of his sexual orientation and they used that as leverage against him.  According to Jayden his employers `drove fear in me` in order to obtain sexual favours.
Later he found out he was HIV positive when he tried to open an insurance policy.

`I am not getting into their clauses and reasons why an HIV positive person cannot get insurance, but it is the way in which my results were delivered to me by the doctor. `You`re HIV positive…your [application] for a policy has been turned down.`

Then she lashed out: `You didn`t know about HIV/AIDS? What sweet in goat mouth bitter in he batty.“

He said that after he learned that he was infected he went to his employers, since they were the ones that were sexually active with him. He wanted them to understand that they did not treat him in a way that was professional, ethical or morally right.

`I told them that if this don`t stop then maybe I will have to take it to another level. But they drove more fear into me saying `you are HIV positive.`

`They then went and told my mother and they started to tell people about it,` he said.

Jayden said subsequent to that experience he was able to find work at a national institution and keep his sexual orientation and HIV status secret.  By doing that he was able to avoid being discriminated against.  Eventually they did find out his secret.

`But when they found out they were a little more receptive towards me,` he said.  Things were looking a little better for him but they were far from ideal as being gay and HIV positive still carries a double dose of stigma.

In the Guyana HIV country report April 2010 Guyana`s Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, mentioned that `although there is a lot of information in the public domain about the ill effects of HIV stigma and discrimination, there are still pockets of occurrences of this undesirable trend.`

While noting that stigma and discrimination are complex problems and require multi-pronged strategies, Dr. Ramsammy acknowledges that the Government of Guyana and NGOs need to do more to bring home the messages about stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. 
`HIV-related stigma and discrimination continue to stand in the way of access to prevention, treatment and care, and support services,` he asserts.

In the meantime Guyana`s Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir said the government has developed the National HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy.   This document governs how government employees and unions should deal with people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

`And so it does have within it the issue of discrimination and how we treat people. It is also allowing for the development of programmes to help their families,` the minister said.

The National HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy project, launched in 2003, was funded by the US Department of Labour and was implemented through the International Labour Organisation (ILO).  This policy instructs trade unions, employers` organisations and government officials to develop programmes to help promote awareness, testing and actions to combat the disease.  It also helps individuals who are employed and living with AIDS in the workplace. Employers must also commit to having their staff trained as peer educators.  

According to the Minister of Labour a large percentage of staff at the government ministries are trained as peer educators.

`We hold monthly seminars. We go out to workplaces and help to sensitise them. We do testing. If there is counselling to be done we hand that over to a more competent agency,` Nadir said. Director of the National Aids Programme Secretariat, Dr. Shanti Singh, said that many of the NGOs receive funds from her agency to address stigma and discrimination. She said that the National Strategic Plan has an entire section that addresses stigma and discrimination. 

Jayden did not comment on how the efforts by his government and NGOs to combat stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV in the workplace have impacted him. Still he tries to be strong in the face of his troubles.

`My take on things is that I am a human being. As I respect you I expect you to respect me. I don`t need your tolerance or your acceptance. I accept myself. I respect you and I think it should be demanded in return…regardless if I am HIV positive, homosexual, heterosexual, it should be reciprocal,` he said.

 

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