Workplace health – what is feasible?

girl-selling-ingredients-2.jpgNigeria’s Daily Champion Newspaper reports that, “CHIEF Executive Officer of Friends of the Global Fund Africa (Friend Africa)- an advocacy and fund raising organization, Akudo Anyanwu Ikemba has canvassed the need for institutionalize workplace policies to ensure the protection of health and right of workers.”

Participants at the 2-day Workplace Policy Workshop recognized that, “The HIV/AIDS scourge, tuberculosis and malaria are impending threats to productivity that could have negative economic impact on the workforce if not properly tackled.”  Akudo Ikemba also explained that “there is need for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to embark on deliberate workplace policies.”

In reality ‘small’ enterprises does not begin to describe the work setting for the majority of people in Nigeria and Africa generally. “This sector may be invisible, irregular, parallel, non-structured, backyard, under ground, subterranean, unobserved or residual.” It is hard to imagine members of this sector setting workplace health policies.

Their numbers are substantial. Geoffrey Nwaka estimates that the sector accounts for between 45% and 60% of the urban labor force.  The proportion is probably even greater in rural communities wheremost people work in subsistence agriculture.

Onyenechere reminds us that just because health services are available, it does not mean that the poorer people in the informal sector can access these. People in the informal sector have their own informal ways of raising money for health care. Yusuf and colleagues found that rotational credit/savings schemes have been used to finance health services, thus increasing access to a social service that many could not easily afford.

med-shop-alagba-2.jpgSo how do people in the informal sector get malaria control services? The local butcher, carpenter or seamstress certainly does not keep a medical clinic on retainer. Most people in both rural and urban settings rely on the patent medicine seller or pharmacy shops.

A healthy and productive workplace is essential for national, community and individual development.  We need to be a bit more creative in ensuring that the informal sector and its employees have the same access to malaria prevention and treatment services as those working in the larger commercial and industrial sectors.

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