ILO Calls on Middle Eastern Countries To End Discrimination Against People Living With HIV/AIDS, Proposes Code of Practice
The International Labour Organization recently called on some Middle Eastern countries, including the United Arab Emirates, to end discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, The National reports. ILO in partnership with UNAIDS and the International Organization for Migration also proposed a code of practice for governments in dealing with migrant workers who become HIV-positive.
Currently, UAE law requires all migrant workers arriving in the country to undergo an HIV test before visas are issued. Those who are found to be HIV-positive are deported. In addition, anyone planning to marry, undergo surgery at a government hospital, start a new job or has tuberculosis must be tested for HIV, and those who test positive are reported to the police. Khawla Mattar, an employment rights specialist for ILO, said the new guidelines encourage UAE officials to abandon the practice of automatically deporting expatriates who are living with HIV/AIDS. Under the proposal, titled "HIV and International Labour Migration," officials are encouraged to "ensure there is no discrimination on the grounds of HIV status in the context of entry requirements, immigration, employment or reintegration procedures." The proposal also urges health care officials to ensure that "labor migrants and their families have the same access as nationals to gender-, language- and culture-sensitive HIV services."
According to The National, the call from ILO comes in light of research from the United Arab Emirates University, which found that young people in the country have "alarming" knowledge gaps about HIV/AIDS and a widespread "fear and intolerance" of people living with the disease. A survey of first-year students at UAE University found that more than 50% believed HIV could be spread through food, 62% said it could be spread by sharing a comb or brush, and 91% said the virus could be spread through a mosquito bite. One-third of the students surveyed knew there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. In addition, more than 50% of the survey participants thought people living with HIV/AIDS should live apart from the rest of society, 73% thought children with the disease should not be allowed to attend school and almost all the participants said that people entering the UAE should be tested for HIV.
"This is a pretty serious problem," Peter Barss, an associate professor of community health at UAE University, said, adding that the students "believe [HIV] can be transmitted through casual contact, which means they would likely have an undue fear." Barss said, "I can only assume the students were not receiving valid information." He added, "People need to understand [HIV/AIDS]. If you bring in new legislation, you need to know what people actually believe" (Reinl/Todd, The National, 7/20).