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October 22, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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With a handful of inmates in their custody tested positive for HIV/AIDS, the Fiji Corrections Services today took the crucial first steps to adopting a HIV workplace program aimed to identify areas of cooperation encompassing all staff members and inmates.

Addressing Corrections officers at a 2-day workshop in Suva today, Commissioner of Corrections Lieutenant Colonel Ifereimi Vasu said it was imperative to adopt a policy of this nature as HIV is a daily challenge to the work of Corrections Officers given the nature of their work and their daily interaction with offenders.

It is believed at least three of the 1540 inmates currently held in the 12 corrections facilities across the country are HIV/AIDS positive.
 “That is the challenge for us. Recently, we have experienced the challenge of mental cases within our institutions including a few inmates affected by HIV,” Vasu said.

“Hopefully, this 2-day workshop will be a success and will help us in our work. We do not want to discriminate against those affected by HIV. We want to offer our support to those who have unfortunately contracted the disease and we want to minimize the spread of HIV in Fiji.”

This was echoed by Labour Ministry’s Deputy Secretary Osea Cawaru who also applauded the Fiji Prison & Corrections Service management for its leadership, direction and commitment to accept the invitation of the Ministry to take on board the HIV initiative.

“The presence of the upper echelons of the Fiji Prison & Corrections Service in this two-day “Supportive Environment” Workshop is a great example of commitment.

“The risks posed by the nature of work of Corrections Officers and those under their leadership is too great to ignore and requires inter-agency cooperation to mitigate.”

Cawaru hopes other workplaces would learn from the FCS and do the same “to make an impact at a workplace, national and global level.”

In adopting a HIV/AIDS policy, the FCS becomes the first arm of Fiji’s disciplinary forces to do so.

Director International Labour Organisation South Pacific David Lamotte said the purpose of the workshop is to help the FCS develop their HIV/AIDS policy in their workplace.

“To do that you need to deal with attitude towards HIV and AIDS. We all have our own thoughts and challenges on how to deal with it,” Lamotte said.

“It’s a reality for all workplaces particularly the Prisons Services. So we are hopeful, we being the Ministry of Labour, the ILO and the SPC that at the end of this 2-day workshop, the FCS would be able to come up with their own policy.”

Corrections spokeswoman Ana Tamani said, “In view of the stigma associated with prisons, this makes our prison facilities vulnerable to HIV and those who are confined to that environment.

“We are committed to ensure that our staff, their families and those under our care are empowered to ensure the importance of a healthy workforce.”

The 2-day workshop is being conducted in cooperation with the ILO, Pacific Islands Aids Foundation, Fiji Red Cross and the Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, according to the Ministry of Labour’s HIV and AIDS Unit they have so far conducted HIV and AIDS awareness at 88 workplaces, covering a total of 2386 workers and successfully endorsed 15 HIV & AIDS Workplace Policies.

In 2011, the Ministry of Health recorded a cumulative number of 420 HIV/AIDS cases, a 14 per cent increase from 2010 numbers, with 85 per cent of infections concentrated within the age group of 20 – 49 years.

By Lavenia Vuadreu

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