Thursday, April 22, 2021

Tour operators don’t release staff on time to get ARVs – claim

For some safari workers in the Okavango Delta who are HIV positive, the most profitable tourism season may also pose the greatest health risk.

A healthcare worker at a Maun clinic tells Sunday Standard that some safari workers come to Maun late to fill their prescriptions because their employers would not have released them well in time. “It is not always possible for them to come on time because makgoa ba tla a bo ba gana ba tsamaya ba re go busy,” she says meaning by the Setswana that their “white employers refuse to release them when they are doing brisk business.”

The end result, the source claims, is that these employees default in taking their HIV/AIDS medication which can aggravate their medical condition. Unless one is prepared to take an extremely long and endlessly meandering trip by motor boat, the easier, quicker and more convenient way to travel from the delta to Maun is by air. The source alleges that one employer charges employees a stiff fare to airlift them to Maun where they fill their prescriptions and back to the delta camp on what would otherwise be scheduled flights to do company business.

“The result is that practically all their earnings go towards the airfare,” the source says. While admitting that some employers don’t release their employees in time for regular check-up, the public relations officer of Letsholathebe Memorial Hospital, Tshokologo Makolo, doesn’t characterise the problem in catastrophic terms. She says that the hospital has reached an understanding with tour operators over how these visits should be conducted. Such understanding is that employers should release employees who are due for review and that such employees should produce evidence of a medical appointment. The latter is in the form of a hospital note with all the relevant details.

Makolo admits though that there is still some challenge with that arrangement. While review dates are supposed to be synchronised with off-duty days to enable employees to travel to Maun, that is not always the case. Maun West MP, Tawana Moremi, says that while he is aware that there are “many labour issues from the delta”, this particular one has not been formally presented to his constituency office. Treatment interruptions in HIV/AIDS patients have been found to increase the risk of opportunistic infection and death with viral load increase and associated CD4 decline.

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