AIDS Advocates Criticize U.N. for Failing To Provide Health Care Coverage, Including HIV Care, To Subcontractors
The United Nations is "under attack" by AIDS advocates for failing to provide HIV/AIDS medical coverage to subcontractors in its Kenya office, according to "extensive documentation" released by the Global AIDS Alliance, the Boston Globe reports. The release follows eight months of negotiations for HIV/AIDS care for people who are full-time contractors at the United Nations' Kenya compound; the employees perform jobs including maintenance, cleaning, landscaping and food services. The alliance released the documents "in hopes of securing health benefits for those in Kenya and in similar situations in other U.N. offices," the Globe reports. Under official U.N. policy, consultants and subcontractors do not receive medical coverage from the agency, according to a U.N. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In one of the documents released by GAA, Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said in a Oct. 19, 2002, e-mail to U.N. officials in Kenya, U.N. Development Programme Administrator Mark Malloch Brown and UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, "If we are contracting out cleaning and related services to employers whose labor policies in general are egregious, and in particular around HIV/AIDS are unacceptable, we could find ourselves [legitimately] vulnerable to public criticism." The United Nations has "long called on" corporations and countries to provide HIV/AIDS care and treatment, the Globe reports. GAA Director Paul Zeitz said, "We want the U.N. to be the beacon of human rights in the world, and this shows they are not," adding, "The U.N. is using a double standard: one for itself and one for the rest of the world."
Paul Andre de la Porte, head U.N. administrator in Kenya, said that bureaucratic issues have "tangled up the process" of obtaining health care coverage for the workers, according to the Globe. "Here in Kenya we have 85 different U.N. bodies and offices, with different budgetary approval processes and authorities, and getting them to agree on HIV/AIDS insurance and coverage for subcontracting parties does not present any problems of principle, but it does present many practical problems," de la Porte wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. Johanne Girard, chief of human resources at UNAIDS, said, "We are fighting, pushing, insisting, advocating that there is some coherence between our messages and our actions," adding, "If we are going to be effective in our fight against HIV/AIDS, it starts at home." Kenyan officials said that they are still working on new contracts with five businesses to ensure a "living wage" and enrollment of staff members in medical coverage, but Zeitz said that such coverage does not include treatment or counseling for HIV/AIDS. Lewis also dismissed the "living wage" approach, saying that it is imperative that premiums for health insurance be included, something that is "way beyond what these contracts reflect" (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 5/26).