Coinciding with the meeting with the UN Secretary-General, UNPlus officially launched its website: www.unplus.org. The website provides staff members, UN agencies and other external partners with important information concerning HIV in the workplace. It also promotes positive living and highlights the challenges and successes of people living with HIV from around the world. To mark the launch, the web site features an exclusive interview with the UNAIDS Executive Director on the exceptionality of AIDS.
In August 2005, UN staff living with HIV formed an informal group to give voice to issues affecting those living with HIV and working in the UN system. Click here to view the first flier containing information on the Group and how to contact members of the group.
In the spirit of UN Reform more than 30 HIV-positive UN employees from 11 organizations based in duty stations from around the world met in Amsterdam in March this year. The group, UN+, met to focus on four key challenges where they feel UN organizations can improve AIDS responses by improving, and sharing learning, on how they deal with AIDS inside their organizations. These challenges include: protecting confidentiality; negotiating mobility and travel restrictions for HIV positive people; proving comprehensive and non-discriminatory health insurance for staff; and tackling stigma and discrimination. Employees represented 11 UN agencies and affiliated organizations, including meeting organizers UNAIDS and UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOV, WFP, DPKO, WHO, the World Bank, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The 19 men and 15 women at the meeting work in nearly 20 countries around the world. The majority were nationals of, and had traveled from, nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. UN+ participants represented a wide range of personal, social, and health experiences related to HIV. Several have been living with HIV for more than a decade; some have lost spouses and children to the virus; and almost half said they are unable or unwilling to be open about their HIV status at the workplace due to factors such as stigma and concern over potential discrimination. For many participants, the meeting marked a rare opportunity to share their experience of living with HIV with colleagues and for many it was the first time they had met other UN employees with similar issues and concerns. The group presented its vision and a preliminary work plan to UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot at a roundtable discussion who committed to working closely with the group. Dr Piot told the group: "AIDS divides, but AIDS also unites. We hear a lot about UN reform these days, but bringing together colleagues from 11 different agencies in this way is remarkable. What UN+ is doing is essential to UN reform." Participants identified four key areas for action in which they believe changes are required within the UN system:
- confidentiality, in particular regarding information about employees' HIV status;
- health insurance, notably lack of effective and affordable coverage for HIV positive employees and their dependents;
- mobility, including travel restrictions on HIV positive individuals imposed by some UN member states; and
- stigma and discrimination, with emphasis on the lack of comprehensive mechanisms to identify and address violations at the global and individual country levels of all UN entities.
Participants agreed to create an outreach strategy to help extend membership, seek further commitment to UN+ from UN heads of agency; and renew commitment to the group from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who met with the group as it was forming in October 2005. UN Plus can be contacted through Mr. Yoshiyuki "John" Oshima at UNAIDS at OshimaY@unaids.org
If the UN were a country, we would be in the top 30 countries affected by HIV! Many more staff members are affected by the epidemic, with family members, friends and colleagues who live with HIV, have become ill with AIDS-related infections, and some of whom have died.
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