New UN guidelines unveiled to protect health workers
United Nations agencies have launched new international guidelines aimed at helping to protect health workers who provide care to people infected with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) from becoming infected themselves in the course of their work.
The guidelines, drafted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), are designed to help doctors, nurses and midwives, pharmacists and laboratory technicians, as well as health managers, cleaners, security guards and other support workers avoid infection.
There are an estimated 60 million health workers across the world, according to the agencies.
“These guidelines directly aim to ensure that health workers have access to universal and standard precautions, preventive therapy for tuberculosis, HIV post-exposure prophylaxis, treatment, compensation schemes for occupational infection, and social security or occupational insurance at the workplace,” said Assane Diop, the ILO Executive Director for the Social Protection Sector.
While the three UN agencies have been championing universal access and making sure people have the right to access prevention, treatment, care and support for HIV and TB services, not enough attention has been paid to the needs of health workers, they said.
“WHO recognises health workers’ risk of acquiring HIV or TB and the need for comprehensive occupational health and safety procedures,” said Hiroki Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “These new guidelines provide key recommendations to protect health workers, patients and their families from the significant threat of HIV and TB in all our health facilities.”
The 14 action points provided in the guidelines are based on respect for workers’ rights as well as practical workplace health and safety programmes to ensure a safer work environment, active participation of health workers, as well as public and private health services employers. The guidelines also address the high level of stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS and TB.
The agencies recommend that countries introduce new policies or refine existing ones that ensure priority access for health workers and their families to services for the prevention, treatment, care and support for HIV and TB. Governments are also called on to implement measures that prevent discrimination against health workers with HIV or TB.
The guidelines also call for reasonable accommodation and compensation, including paid leave, early retirement benefits and death benefits in the event of occupationally-acquired illness.
Other recommendations include strengthening existing infection control programmes, especially with respect to TB and HIV infection control, and extending programmes for regular, free, voluntary, and confidential HIV counselling and testing, and TB screening.
The provision of pre-service, in-service and continuing education on TB and HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services in also recommended, as well as the establishment and provision of adequate financial resources for these services.
“Health workers are one of our most precious resources in the global response to both HIV and TB,” said UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Paul De Lay. “The new guidelines can ensure that health staff have access to the highest standards of TB and HIV prevention, treatment and care so they can stay healthy and continue caring for others.”