It quickly appeared that the workplace was a good location to raise awareness on HIV, promote prevention and convince people to get voluntarily tested.
The ILO’s VCT@WORK initiative in Uganda aims to increase workers’ access to HIV education, prevention, testing and treatment services. Having successfully implemented the Initiative in the fishing and the hotel-tourism sector, the ILO has been expanding its VCT@WORK Initiative in 2019 to reach 20,000 workers in the male-dominated economic sectors road construction and transport.
This ambitious project also requires for more people to be trained.
Jimmy is a supervisor for a construction company. He lives in Nagongera town, in the Tororo district. He was among the 46 men trained by the ILO under its male champions’ campaign to promote Voluntary HIV Counselling and Testing amongst workers (VCT@WORK) Initiative in Uganda.
“There are temptations”
“Our work involves being away from home for a long time. There are temptations to have casual sex with rural girls around the road construction sites, increasing the risk of infections such as HIV. I have taken the HIV test. Now I encourage my co-workers to do the same,” said Jimmy.
The training seeks to empower men to challenge the gender related “male and masculinity” attitude that is one of the reasons for the poor health-seeking behaviour among men, resulting into low up-take of HIV testing, prevention and treatment services.
HIV risky behaviours are further fuelled by men having multiple sexual partners, putting them at a higher risk of HIV. Statistics in Uganda indicate that 45 per cent of men living with HIV do not know their status.
Employers and workers together
The Initiative is being implemented in collaboration with Uganda’s workers and employers’ organizations, the country’s AIDS Commission as well as health service providers who organise health fairs at the workplaces to conduct HIV testing events, prevention and refer workers for further counselling and treatment.
Employers and unions leaders are playing a key role by advocating for early HIV testing.
“I know my HIV status. What about you? Take an HIV test today!” said Douglas Opio, Executive Director, Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE), in his message under the on-line VCT@WORK poster campaign.
FUE is rallying companies to implement the Initiative while unions are mobilizing workers to seek HIV awareness and testing services.
“The best way to communicate with men is through their peers. Hence, we are focusing on creating “champions” in male-dominated economic sectors, says David Mawejje, the ILO National Officer dealing with HIV and AIDS in Uganda.
The ILO is developing a handbook on “HIV Male Champions” and is training peer educators like Jimmy to educate men on HIV and AIDS, aimed to enhance health seeking behaviours among men and to address the issues of gender and masculinity.
Another interesting strategy being adopted by the ILO and UNAIDS is to organize HIV awareness and testing events during boxing tournaments in Jinja, a revitalised industrial town located in the mid-east of Uganda.
As men turn out in large numbers to watch boxing fights, they will be able to acquire educational messages such as “Don’t let HIV knock you down, and take the HIV test today” which will be flashed on screens, while HIV service providers will be lined up outside the boxing arena to offer HIV counselling and testing.
“Knowing one’s HIV status early allows timely treatment and reduces the rate of new infections that could halt the spread of the epidemic. VCT@WORK is extremely critical to achieving the goal of ‘test and treat’, as it expands HIV testing choices for people,” commented Dr. Nelson Musoba, Director General, Uganda AIDS Commission.