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Collaborating for change: Government, teachers and trade unions join the fight against HIV/AIDS in Ukraine

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, annual HIV diagnoses in Ukraine have more than doubled since 2001, reaching 16,000 in 2006. However the Government is also taking urgent steps to respond.

Article | 29 November 2007

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, annual HIV diagnoses in Ukraine have more than doubled since 2001, reaching 16,000 in 2006. However the Government is also taking urgent steps to respond. Ministry officials, teachers and trade unionists in the education sector are among the key actors who could help to stop or reverse this trend, and fight the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV. ILO Online reports from Ukraine.

KIEV, Ukraine (ILO Online) – According to UNAIDS, as many as 416,000 people – 1.7 per cent of all Ukrainian adults age 15 to 49 – are estimated to be living with HIV.

As in many countries worldwide, lack of knowledge about the epidemic not only contributes to its spread, but also to stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV.

A 2004 survey by the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS and International HIV/AIDS Alliance of 692 people living with HIV/AIDS in 16 cities throughout Ukraine found that 42 per cent of respondents reported violations of their rights related to employment, education, health care, or privacy because of their HIV status.

Today, the Ukrainian Government is fully committed to eradicate HIV-based discrimination in the world of work.

“Almost each third case of violation of the rights of people living with HIV in Ukraine is related to the right to work and other labour rights. The State labour inspectors in Ukraine contribute to the prevention of discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world of work through the implementation of legal provisions and other preventive measures”, says Volodymyr Los, Chief State Labour Inspector of Ukraine.

But support comes also from the social partners. According to Volodymyr Gryshenko, Director-General of the Federation of Employers of Ukraine, a lack of adequate action on HIV/AIDS would lead to “a decrease in quality of productive labour and an aggravation of the demographic crisis”.

He is joined by Volodymyr Dudchak, Head of the Chernnivtsi Oblast’s Organization of Trade Unions of Education and Science Workers: “If our trade union, … as well as each education worker, does not treat the threat of HIV/AIDS seriously then in the nearest future we won’t be able to effectively impact the destroying power of the epidemic with its irreversible moral, economic, social and other consequences.”

Dudchak’s union was key in supporting an ILO project which targeted the education sector for the first time in Ukraine.

“The education sector was chosen because its workers have a great potential in developing, promoting and implementing workplace prevention programmes. Teachers can provide information to their colleagues, pupils and parents. By working with education workers we can cover a large number of people of different age and sex”, explains Larissa Savchuk, the ILO’s Project Coordinator.

In two pilot regions, Chernivtsi and Kyiv, the project funded by the German technical cooperation agency GTZ conducted a teachers’ survey to assess needs with respect to awareness on HIV prevention. The survey showed that education workers consider HIV/AIDS as a medical and social problem, but do not fully understand its linkage with the world of work. Mistaken stereotypes and views on different aspects of the epidemic were also widespread.

As a response to this assessment, more than 150 representatives of the education sector were trained in HIV-related issues as well as in methodologies used in conducting trainings. The main objectives of the training courses were to increase the participants' level of awareness on HIV/AIDS and its impact on workplaces as well as to get them acquainted with the methods of conducting prevention courses in schools for teachers, pupils and parents.

The project also distributed 1000 copies of the ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work in Ukrainian to support the training courses.

According to the ILO’s National Coordinator in Kyiv, Vasyl Kostrytsya, the project highlights the triple role teachers can play in response to HIV/AIDS. “First of all, they are professionals working with pupils and thus can raise the pupils' awareness on HIV/AIDS; they are also in contact with parents and thus can encourage families to work with their children as well as with each other as peer-educators; and finally teachers have the confidence of the local community, especially in rural area. This is why we target the education sector in our efforts.”

Experiences in Ukraine also helped to prepare three ILO workshops on HIV/AIDS and the world of work in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova as well as an international conference in Moscow during 2006.