Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, addressing participants at the consultation. At right are Executive Vice President of the BHTA, Sue Springer; Ivor Young; and Deputy Chairman of the National HIV/AIDS Commission, Pastor Sandra Holford. (C. Pitt/BGIS)

A major step has been taken in an effort to strengthen Barbados’ most crucial sector, tourism and its most important resource, its people.?? It came in the form of the Ministry of Tourism’s HIV/AIDS Consultation to finalise the Draft National Tourism Sector Workplace Policy. The consultation was held today at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

The draft policy, a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Tourism and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), seeks to reduce discrimination and stigma and promote the provision of support services and education within the industry.??

Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, acknowledged that the implications of the virus for the industry and the island, were far reaching.

"It is not only a health issue but also a developmental issue, as it can reverse the social and economic achievement which has been achieved over the last 50 years. According to the 2010 United Nations General Assembly Special Session Country Progress Report for Barbados, the prevalence rate in Barbados was high at 0.62 per cent in 2008.?? Also in Barbados, the disease has cemented itself among the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups, which make up a large percentage of the work force," he reported, noting that the nature of the tourism industry presented heightened risks for workers within the sector.

While the Minister acknowledged the accomplishments made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, namely, the revelation in the UN AIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010, that the spread of HIV has halted and begun to reverse, major challenges remain for those living with the virus.?? He emphasised that efforts at both the national and sectoral levels must continue to effect change and action.

"The National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control for the period 2008-2013 will represent a dynamic approach to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic within the country.??The plan will be guided by the phrase "Strength and Unity: Building Social Capital". It places human capital at the heart of the national response to HIV/AIDS.?? In tandem with the National Strategic Plan, the Ministry of Tourism and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association will be working collaboratively to produce a National Tourism Specific HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy," Mr. Sealy explained.??

The NSP will be grounded in four principles which focus on recognising HIV/AIDS as a developmental challenge which requires a multi-sectoral approach; the crucial role of persons living with HIV/AIDS; the importance of eliminating stigma and discrimination; and the importance of grounding policy and programme formulation in an evidenced-based and results-focused approach.

Executive Vice President of the BHTA, Sue Springer, commented on the development of the draft policy and stressed the importance of the project for the industry and the country.

"The BHTA was privileged enough to be a part of a two-year programme entitled ???Accelerating the Private Sector Response to HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean’, which?? was financed by DFID [Department for International Development].?? This project concentrated on tourism workers in both Jamaica and Barbados. One of the outputs included the development of the draft workplace policy for tourism workers.?? This document can now serve as a base to assist in the development of a national tourism HIV and AIDS workplace policy," she explained.

Deputy Chairman of the National HIV/AIDS Commission, Pastor Sandra Holford, remarked that the draft policy had the full support of the Commission and added that the document "echoes the same message" which her organisation promotes – that of kissing stigma and discrimination goodbye.

"We cannot ignore stigma and discrimination.?? If left unchecked, it could have severe consequences on our tourist industry and our entire productive sector…the driving force behind a tourism industry is our human capital.?? If we, as responsible citizens, are to ensure the sustainability of this industry, then improving the health and wellness of the workforce, while creating an environment that abhors all aspects of HIV- related stigma and discrimination will be crucial to our success.??

"Confidentiality, too, will be key.?? If an employee is HIV positive, should it matter??? We the stakeholders in this vital industry, need to create a culture where people treat others as they wish to be treated. HIV infected workers have rights too," the Deputy Chairman stressed.

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