Senior business leaders Monday said the time has come to end the widespread stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.
To set an example, 10 determined business leaders, along with managers of the Gleaner Company Ltd., breakfasted and socialised yesterday with a number of persons living with the disease. Attending the breakfast were business leaders Beverley Lopez, Audrey Hinchcliffe, Doreen Frankson, Maurice Facey, Desmond Blades, Aubyn Hill, Winston Dear, Paul Pennicook, Robert McMillan, Monica Ladd and Oliver Clarke.
It is estimated that 22,000 persons in Jamaica are living with HIV/AIDS, and many are unaware that they are carriers, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.
“I want to see (more) business persons putting in AIDS policies and providing help, both monetary and personal, as we can act as examples to others and help provide opportunities for people living with HIV,” declared Aubyn Hill, managing partner of Corporate Strategies Limited, a restructuring and financial advisory firm.
Mr. Hill, the former managing director of National Commercial Bank who is now assisting with the restructuring of Air Jamaica, said he will be focusing more attention on providing various resources to fight the deadly disease which grew by four per cent last year. In 2003, there were 1,070 reported cases across the island.
“The stigma there is so thick you can cut it with a power saw,” one person living with HIV/AIDS said in reference to the treatment meted out by staff at a public health institution.
Audrey Hinchcliffe, president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, said that the firm which she heads, Manpower and Management Services, is already working with AIDS-related agencies and has a policy of providing support to infected persons. HIV-infected persons are kept on her payroll and they are paid a portion of their salaries when they are too sick to continue working.
“I am aware of the issue. I am going to think about it and see what we can do,” said Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) President Doreen Frankson.
The meeting was also attended by Earl Jarrett, managing director of the Jamaica National Building Society; Dr. Peter Figueroa of the Ministry of Health; and Ruth Janke, executive director of the National AIDS Committee.
“People living with HIV/AIDS continue to face discrimination in all walks of life – at the workplace and unfortunately they may lose their job or they might feel so uncomfortable they are forced to leave their jobs. It is clearly not so in all workplaces. At the community level, there are still problems and unfortunately even in the health sector,” Dr. Figueroa, chief of epidemiology and HIV/AIDS. The business leaders, after hearing from persons living with the deadly disease, committed themselves to spread the message about the effects of discrimination, to take a closer look at HIV policies and to talk with their workers about safer sex practices.