The National Maritime Occupational Health & Safety Committee, comprising the UK Chamber of Shipping and maritime unions Nautilus International and RMT, today (Thursday) released guidelines to shipping companies on HIV and AIDS to raise awareness of risks and give guidance on prevention for seafarers, in support of World AIDS Day.
Since 1988, World Aids Day has aimed to raise awareness and unite people around the globe in the fight against HIV, yet too many people still do not know enough about the condition. In 2007 it was estimated that 33.2 million people were living with AIDS worldwide, with 2.5m newly infected with HIV that year. That the virus remains incurable means education is vital to ensuring the number of new infections reduces.
The Chamber first published guidelines on HIV and AIDS in 1985 and has worked since to ensure seafarers are aware of the situation to which, due to the global nature of their occupation, they may find themselves more exposed. Shore-based medical services may be infrequent and complicated by language barriers and a lack of time. Seafarers are also less able to access the information about HIV prevention that is widely available in the UK.
Issues highlighted in the paper with particular relevance to shipping include the dangers of blood transfusions in certain overseas locations, the risk of inadequately sterilised medical and dental equipment and hazards associated with dental treatment, the risks that may arise from getting tattoos or piercings in high risk areas, the equipment that can be used to prevent exposure to infected blood.
The guidelines also intend to combat the ignorance surrounding HIV / AIDS that is still often found, particularly on the risks and how it spreads. It highlights that, “there is no risk to fellow workers or the general public from normal social and work contact with an employee who is infected with HIV.” Common misconceptions that the infection can be caught from food, kitchen utensils, sharing toilets, coughs and sneezes, are addressed in the guidelines. Employers too are reminded that those with HIV are perfectly capable of working normally and that they should work to eliminate any prejudice and discrimination currently faced by those affected.
A Chamber spokesman said: “The guidelines are an important contribution to the global struggle against HIV and AIDS, and one that should become a staple item on ships across the world.”