When 31-year-old Tryness Khuli, a first time mother, was just about to return to work after her two month maternity leave, she looked for a housemaid to care for her new born.
She met Betty; a well mannered, dutiful and caring 27-year-old; just the kind of person she needed to take care of her infant.
With time, Betty became more like a member of the family. However, when she came back home from a weekly break, she disclosed that she was HIV positive. Tryness was naturally devastated; what would she do?
For Joy Kavuta, a 29-year-old mother of two, there is only one choice in such a case; to fire the housemaid.
For her, the first thing she does when interviewing a potential nanny is to inform her that she will have to undergo a medical test as soon as she takes up the job and she excludes anyone who resists to take the tests.
She explains that this becomes necessary for a person who will be handling her children, spending a lot of time with them and cooking their food and she would never take the chance of exposing them to a HIV.
Understandably, women are concerned about the safety and health of their families, but are HIV tests a prerequisite for employment?
“Socially, it is not acceptable to get a maid tested for HIV before hiring her because this can result in mistrust between the two entities,” sociologist Charles Chilimampunga observes, while wondering why the employer would want a maid to have the test.
“Is it because they fear that she may infect their children? How? We all know how HIV is transmitted and I personally do not see how the maid can do that. Some health workers are HIV positive and we have never heard that they infect their patients even where the latter have to be fed, bathed or taken care of in other ways.
“Is it because they fear she may infect the husband in the event that she has an affair with him? Would she have to undergo the test regularly? Is the maid the only possible source of infection?
Of course not; the sources could include the employers/parents themselves. Would the employer and the children undergo the test as well? What would happen if, after testing negative upon recruitment, she later tested positive? Would she lose the job?”
The sociologist believes that requiring the maid to undergo an HIV test would promote discrimination and stigma. Whatever the case, he thinks the maid has to be told why she has to be tested for HIV.
“Whatever the test is conducted for, if employed, the maid will begin the work knowing that she is not wholly trusted by her employer. Mistrust is an ingredient for a poor relationship whether between employer and employee or any parties in a relationship.
“Having said that, it is the responsibility of each parent to protect their children in all aspects. I would support requiring the maid be tested for communicable diseases such as TB and scabies, but not for HIIV,” says Chilimampunga.
There is no mandatory HIV testing in the country, it is only voluntary. n