UN Targeted on HIV Coverage Limits
May 29, 2003
The UN, which has long urged countries and corporations to extend HIV/AIDS treatment and care to those in the poor world, has come under attack by AIDS advocates for failing to ensure that UN subcontractors receive HIV/AIDS medical coverage. The issue arose from protracted negotiations for full-time workers at the UN's Kenya compound who are employed by an outside contractor.Adapted from:
After being contacted by some of the workers in Kenya, the Global AIDS Alliance quietly prodded the UN for eight months to address the issue. GAA recently decided to bring the impasse into the public eye in hopes of securing health benefits for those in Kenya and in other UN offices. "We want the UN to be the beacon of human rights in the world, and this shows they are not.... The UN is using a double standard: one for itself and one for the rest of the world," said Paul Zeitz, director of GAA.
In a document obtained by the Boston Globe, Stephen Lewis, UN special adviser for HIV/AIDS in Africa, expressed the need to quickly address the "unacceptable" labor policies before the UN found itself vulnerable to public criticism. An official at the UN spokesperson's office, however, said it is not UN policy to provide health care to consultants or contractors. "It is incumbent for those people to pay their own taxes, health insurance, and life insurance," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
More than 243 subcontractors work in the UN's Kenya compound. UN officials said they are working out new contracts with five businesses that would ensure a "living wage" for all workers, which is defined as enrolling staff "in a medical insurance scheme for outpatient and inpatient" care. But Zeitz said the living wage coverage does not include treatment for HIV/AIDS, STDs, or opportunistic infections.
Despite official UN policy, Johanne Girard, chief of human resources at UNAIDS in Geneva, said that her organization has been advocating HIV/AIDS care for all UN workers, including subcontractors. "We are trying to live up to the recommendations of what the world should be doing.... If we are going to be effective in our fight against HIV/AIDS, it starts at home."
05.26.03; John Donnelly