UK screens foreign nurses for AIDS virus

JOHANNESBURG (IRIN)—African nurses unions are protesting new rules by British health services that would make HIV testing for all newly arrived foreign health workers compulsory. JOHANNESBURG (IRIN)—African nurses unions are protesting new rules by British health services that would make HIV testing for all newly arrived foreign health workers compulsory. The unions called the new rules “discriminatory” and insulting to African nurses.

“We are strongly opposed to mandatory testing because this will exacerbate the stigma of HIV-positive nurses. We are worried about what will happen to them when they are found to be positive,” said Ephraim Mafalo, president of the Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa (DENOSA).

“They need nurses but they turn around and introduce such measures. It’s really an insult to us,” said a member of Zimbabwe’s Nursing Association who asked not be named.

Britain’s Department of Health intends implementing HIV screening tests for new nursing and health worker recruits, media reports said.
The move is likely to be introduced as soon as approval is granted for the plans, which have been forwarded to the National Health Service.

With more than 300 specialist nurses leaving South Africa every month, the country is the second-biggest provider of foreign nurses to Britain. But the migration of health professionals is not particular to South Africa. Over the last five years there has been an increase in medical personnel leaving the Southern African region to seek greener pastures in developed countries.

In Zimbabwe, a large number of doctors and nurses are also heading for Britain every month, according to Zimbabwe’s Nursing Association.

“Our nurses want to survive, they need money, and they are not being paid enough in our country, they have no other choice but to go,” the source told IRIN.

The exodus of Zimbabwe’s health workers has been blamed on the country’s economic and political crisis.

But DENOSA’s Mafalo warned that despite poor working conditions in their own countries, nurses were also being exploited overseas.

“Sometimes they [nurses] find themselves in worse situations in countries like Saudi Arabia and even Britain. It’s a case of the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know,” he added.

Mandatory pre-employment testing in South Africa was unlawful and guidelines by the International Labor Organization on HIV/AIDS in the workplace discouraged such discriminatory practices, AIDS Legal Network Training Coordinator Ncumisa Nongogo told IRIN.

The potential exclusion of nurses living with HIV/AIDS would violate principles of non-discrimination and equality, as there was no legal basis to exclude them from working, Nongogo said.

“We know Southern Africa carries the burden of HIV/AIDS but we need to show them that people living with AIDS can continue to be productive,” she added.

Derek Bodell, the head of Britain’s leading AIDS advocacy organization the National AIDS Trust, said in a statement: “People living with people living with HIV are productive citizens who are able and should be given the opportunity to work. Testing should not infringe on their rights to employment nor their human rights.”

“The UK has a shortage of health workers and there are many well-trained and experienced professionals from developing countries who help to fill this gap. It may be detrimental or unhelpful to keep these professionals from providing such a necessary service to the UK health system,” he added.

September 2, 2002
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