Vol 67, No 1 (2016)
Published online: 2016-03-30

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HIV/AIDS, health and wellbeing study among International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) seafarer affiliates

Syed Asif Altaf Chowdhury, Jacqueline Smith, Steve Trowsdale, Susan Leather
DOI: 10.5603/IMH.2016.0009
Pubmed: 27029929
IMH 2016;67(1):42-50.


Background: Transport workers generally face a higher-than-average risk of HIV as well as other health challenges. In order to improve understanding of health issues in the maritime sector, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, and to prepare appropriate responses the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) conducted a study of the views and needs of those affiliates.

Materials and methods: The ITF carried out two surveys. The first consisted of a questionnaire sent to all ITF seafarer affiliates to establish their concerns about health issues, including the impact of HIV/AIDS, and to assess the extent and nature of existing trade union programmes. The second consisted of a knowledge, attitude and behaviour survey on health, wellbeing and AIDS among a cross-section of individual members administered through anonymous and confidential questionnaires by maritime affiliates in four countries in different regions and an identical online questionnaire through Survey Monkey.

Results: For the first survey, replies were received from 35 unions in 30 countries, including major seafarer supplying countries — India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Turkey, Ukraine — and major beneficial ownership countries such as Germany, Italy, Norway, and South Korea. Health issues of concern included HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for over three-quarters of them, and then alcohol use, weight control, and mental health. All said they would welcome ITF support in starting or strengthening a programme on general health and/or HIV. Replies were received to the second survey from 615 individual seafarers. Half to three-quarters said they worried about their weight, lack of exercise and drinking; over half felt depressed sometimes or often. There were serious knowledge gaps in a number of areas, especially HIV transmission and prevention, as well as high levels of stigma towards workmates with HIV.

Conclusions: A number of health issues and information gaps remain unaddressed on board and pre-departure. Mental health is especially neglected but the needs emerge clearly. Seafarers believe that companies should provide programmes but also look to their unions for health information and services. The ITF has an important role to play in supporting affiliated unions in developing activities and in providing technical and strategic guidance.  

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