Reaching Workers on the Job Key to HIV/AIDS Prevention

Roseline Mosibudi Nkgapele, a member of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), has made it her mission to educate workers about HIV/AIDS. The virus is particularly cruel in that it strikes workers in their prime, affecting their ability to remain productive on the job and earn a living wage. Prevention and care is an urgent issue for workers and their unions.

When Nkgapele, a 10-year employee at AutoZone, an auto parts wholesaler and retailer in South Africa’s Gauteng Province, heard about the Solidarity Center’s project on workplace HIV/AIDS, “Be Faithful, Be Tested, Be Union,” she wanted her workplace to be included in the project.

Jean Lindsay, Autozone’s human resources manager, agreed, and they requested the Solidarity Center’s assistance in developing an HIV prevention and management strategy. As a result, Solidarity Center staff held multiple trainings which in turn empowered dozens of new workplace peer educators and sparked the creation of a new committee to shepherd HIV prevention at Autozone. Key to the trainings is educating men on the effectiveness of circumcision in preventing HIV/AIDS. To date, more than half of Autozone’s male workforce, have undergone circumcision.

“Be Faithful, Be Tested, Be Union” is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The partnership with the Solidarity Center and NUMSA, begun in August 2011, was the first time labor and management worked together on an issue, said Lindsay. Now, “we are feeling that there is a significant difference in our workplace: Workers are aware of their HIV status, men are undergoing medical circumcision that could potentially save their lives and their spouses, greater knowledge and awareness was gained and the team is empowered. Management and the union are united over the same cause and great relationships and partnerships have been formed.”

South African unions are at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. In South Africa, the Solidarity Center partners with the 302,000-member NUMSA, the largest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). From October 2008 to September 2011, the Solidarity Center in South Africa implemented HIV/AIDS workplace activities at more than 100 jobsites, ranging in size from 50 to 3,000 workers. To date, the Solidarity Center planned and faciliated small group sessions for more than 20,000 workers through HIV/AIDS workplace education.

Most recently, the Solidarity Center in September held a Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision drive attended by 2,000 men. (Click here to check out all World AIDS Day actions the Solidarity is sponsoring or taking part in.) Educating men through the workplace is extremely effective, says Solidarity Center South Africa Senior Specialist Gillian Cassell. By first getting male union shop stewards involved, their participation in circumcision overcomes the uncertainty other men may have, and enables them to follow their lead.

“The workplace at Autozone shows that men are comfortable sharing what they’re doing, something as intimate as medical male circumcision,” says Cassell. “We’re seeing the peer pressure approach work.”

As the global community gets set to mark December 1 as World AIDS Day, reaching workers on the job and educating them about HIV prevention is an essential element in slowing—and ultimately ending—HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, the number of those newly infected continues to fall: Adults and children acquiring HIV infection in 2011 was 2.5 million, 20 percent lower than in 2001. The sharpest declines were in the Caribbean (42 percent) and sub-Saharan Africa (25 percent).

Yet there is much work to do: Globally, 34 million people were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2011, and sub-Saharan Africa remains the most severely affected, with nearly one in every 20 adults accounting for 69 percent of the people living with HIV worldwide. In South Africa, the HIV infection rate is nearly 18 percent for people between ages 15 and 49.

More Information

• The World Health Organization—Between 2011-2015, the World Aids Day theme is “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-related Deaths.”

• World AIDS Campaign—The United World AIDS Campaign site includes resources, country-specific news on HIV/AIDS and more.

• World AIDS Day Timeline, 1988-2011

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