x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

FNC to consider law against HIV discrimination

The draft law will make it illegal for employers to discriminate against people with HIV/Aids.

ABU DHABI // A draft law is being prepared to make it illegal for employers to discriminate against people with HIV/Aids. Dr Nada al Marzouqi, head of the National Aids Programme, said the proposal would be sent to the Federal National Council for consideration before the end of this year. The proposal is part of an effort by the Government to bring the subject of Aids into the open and remove the stigma that still surrounds the disease and its victims.

There are no laws protecting the rights of a UAE national with the disease. All migrants must be tested for HIV/Aids before they can be granted residency visas. Those who test positive must return to their home countries. Emiratis starting new jobs also must have medical examinations. There are no restrictions on tourists visiting the UAE, and with the country becoming a tourism centre, the potential for the disease spreading has increased.

The UAE has been criticised by UN officials and campaign groups for having HIV/Aids policies which, it was claimed, violate human rights. Most recently, the Government was criticised for not honouring its commitments to the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/Aids, because it did not submit data to the UNAIDS 2008 Report on the Global Aids Epidemic. In July, the International Labour Organisation called on some Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE, to end discrimination against people with HIV.

Dr Marzouqi said: "We want patients with HIV to know their rights, and know what they can and cannot expect." In addition to testing of migrants, the UAE requires anyone having surgery at a Government hospital, planning on getting married or who has tuberculosis to be tested. Dr Marzouqi said experts had examined various situations in which patients may be discriminated against, but that employment was the biggest problem area.

She said she has heard of cases of employers refusing to offer jobs to applicants because they had HIV. "The employer will not say, 'It is because of your condition', they will say it is because of something else. We are trying to help them as much as we can. "Some employers are very good about not discriminating against this. We want to educate from the bottom up and the top down in the workplace."

Dr Khaled Alloush, the UN Development Programme resident representative, said anything that increases education about Aids will help. "There is a lack of awareness with so many people about HIV," he said. "Up until now people have been very reluctant to come close to HIV-positive cases. This is exists mainly through ignorance and lack of understanding about the disease." He said making it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone with HIV/Aids would have a big impact because it would create a legal ground on which to argue against it. "It will make it much, much harder for employers to make excuses.""

Once the proposal is drafted, it will be passed to the FNC to be made law. Dr Marzouqi said the proposal would be forwarded only after it covered every scenario. Dr Ayesha al Roomi, a member of the FNC, said she is looking forward to receiving the National Aids Programme's proposal. "People with HIV and Aids should not be discriminated against," she said. "We will take this very seriously when it is passed to the FNC.

"As a doctor. I know people with HIV and Aids should be allowed to work freely." munderwood@thenational.ae