Illegal testing of domestic workers

A friend sent me a Whatsapp the other day of a centre in Kenya that does health screening for domestic workers. The centre tests for HIV, syphilis, urine analysis. My reaction—this is so wrong—it is abuse of human rights and extremely unethical and illegal!

I was even more horrified when she told me apparently this came about when a baby became infected with HIV from breastfeeding from the nanny. Whose fault is it if not the very irresponsible mother?

Some employers insist that domestic workers must be tested for HIV because of their fears that HIV can easily be transmitted in the household. It is, medically well established that there is virtually no risk of HIV transmission where a domestic worker with HIV has cleaning duties or prepares food.

In order for HIV to be transmitted, there must be a substantial exchange of bodily fluids (blood, semen, breastmilk, and vaginal fluids).

A story I read from Uganda spoke about wives fearing getting infected through their husbands sleeping with domestic workers. There are so many problems with this thinking—from the cheating husband, a husband potentially taking advantage of a vulnerable worker and a wife not dealing with the actual problem—her husband!

Some domestic workers have lost jobs and have heard of their employers going around town disclosing their status and encouraging other people not to hire them.

A person’s HIV status is confidential unless the patient gives permission for disclosure. Doctors must obtain domestic worker’s informed consent for testing and disclosing any results, without which, the doctor acts illegally and unethically and is liable to disciplinary and legal action. An employer who deceives a domestic worker (or an applicant for such a position) into taking an HIV test is acting illegally. 

From as far back as 2001 in South Africa there have been a number of formal complaint cases that related to breach of doctor/patient confidentiality with regard to HIV/AIDS patients. If the South African court finds in the employee’s favour, employers may be forced to pay up to two years’ wages as well as additional claims for damages.

More legal protections are needed for domestic workers. Domestic workers who feel their rights are being violated are encouraged to visit their labour office.

Are you a domestic worker who has been unfairly dismissed or coerced into taking an HIV test? Please write to me. 

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