Launched on 19th November 2010, the body of guidelines seeks to correct the situation where health workers, who are at the frontline in providing protection, treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS and TB, lack adequate access to protection and treatment.
The new guidelines are important particularly for health workers in areas with high prevalence of HIV and TB, such as doctors, nurses and midwives, technical staff such as pharmacists and laboratory technicians, as well as health managers, cleaners, security guards and other support workers. There are an estimated 60 million health workers throughout the world.
According to a joint statement issued by the ILO, WHO and UNAIDS, “These guidelines directly aim to ensure that health workers have access to universal and standard precautions, preventive therapy for tuberculosis, HIV post-exposure prophylaxis, treatment, compensation schemes for occupational infection, and social security or occupational insurance at the workplace, said Mr. Assane Diop, ILO Executive Director for the Social Protection Sector.”
It further explains that the launch of the new guidelines was of necessity because while UNAIDS, ILO and WHO championed the cause of universal access and making sure people have the right to access prevention, treatment, care and support for HIV and TB services, not enough attention has been paid to the needs of health workers. These guidelines help fill the response gap to reach towards the universal access objective.
“WHO recognizes health workers’ risk of acquiring HIV or TB and the need for comprehensive occupational health and safety procedures,” said Dr Hiroki Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “These new guidelines provide key recommendations to protect health workers, patients and their families from the significant threat of HIV and TB in all our health facilities.”
The plan outlines 14 action points which are based on workers’ rights and feature practical workplace health and safety programmes which seek to ensure a safer work environment, active participation of health workers as well as public and private health services employers. The guidelines also address challenges such as the high level of stigma and discrimination associated with both diseases.
UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Dr. Paul De Lay, says that health workers are one of our most precious resources in the global response to both HIV and TB, said Dr Paul De Lay, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director.
The new guidelines also drew strong support from the ILOs employer and worker constituents, with Mr. Antonio Peñalosa, Secretary-General of the International Organization of Employers (IOE), calling them a useful tool to assist the health care sector in staff retention and motivation.
Recent surveys show that health workers prefer convenient and cost-effective solutions, including having dedicated HIV and TB services at their workplaces, and linking them to other occupational health services.
The guidelines which were developed jointly by experts from ILO, WHO and UNAIDS are based on systematic literature reviews, international consultations and an assessment of current practices in 21 country-based studies. They bring together a vast body of evidence and existing guidelines from the ILO, WHO and UNAIDS that now includes a specific and coherent focus on protecting health workers.
The guidelines can be accessed through http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/hiv_tb_guidelines
Some content in this article was lifted from the ILO, WHO and UNAIDS’ joint communiqué on the launch of International Guidelines to protect health workers from HIV/AIDS and TB.