UN Plus: UN System HIV Positive Staff Group

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UN Plus Malawi at the UN Health Wellness Day

Photos (Left): UN Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres (middle) leading the candle lighting ceremony at the Health and Wellness Day; (Right) A group of young people disseminating HIV and AIDS related messages through a song at the Health and Wellness Day

The UN Cares Team in Malawi in conjunction with the Resident Coordinator’s Office organized a UN Health Wellness Day on 22nd June 2018 under the theme “my health my responsibility.” One of the activities on the day was the candlelight memorial event where we remembered our loved colleagues who passed on from the HIV epidemic. UN Plus Malawi Chapter facilitated the event and the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Maria Jose Torres lit the first candle alongside Miriam Nyoni, HIV Activist under UN Plus Malawi Chapter. Activities on the day included the provision of Health consultations with specialists (Skin, Eyes, Ears, Note & Throat, Dental, Gynae, Voluntary blood, Sugar, HIV and Syphilis testing, Aerobics and vital signs checks).

UN Plus Malawi Chapter was established in 2005 and was officially launched on 14th June 2006 by the former UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot. This was also the day when the fight against HIV within the UN workplace was taken to the higher level and breakthrough was attained through the brave UN staff members came out open about their HIV positive sero-status to tackle stigma and discrimination within the UN Malawi workplace. The chapter has leadership structures and operates under the UN Cares Programme which is fully funded by the UN Malawi through common services budget under the Operations Management Team. The Chapter has 21 members drawn from UNAIDS, UNDP, FAO, UNFPA, UNDSS, WFP and UNICEF.

Major achievements

  • UN Plus Malawi Chapter enjoys managerial support and commitment.
  • Great partnership and working relationship with UN Cares.
  • Recognition and engagement at Country level. The chapter is registered with Malawi Networks of People Living with HIV and AIDS (MANET+) which is an umbrella body for PLHIV in Malawi. The chapter has secured a seat on MANET+ Board of Trustees.
  • The chapter has successfully fielded three candidates to the UN Plus Global Advisory Group and excelled to Chair the Advisory Group during the year 2015 and was the Vice Chairperson during the years 2013 to 2014 and from 2016 to 2017.
  • The Chapter also engages in national response activities mainly with churches to help tackle faith healing and stigma and discrimination by conducting candlelight memorial services within which motivational speeches are delivered and HIV information shared.

The UN Plus Malawi Chapter intends to reach out to all UN Personnel and their dependents who are living with HIV to encourage them, embrace them, and assure them that there is positive life with dignity after testing HIV positive. UN personnel should not live in denial. A positive result would not alter who you are.

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As I See It ~ A column by David Chipanta

David Chipanta is the Senior Adviser of UNAIDS and also an active member of UN Plus. David will periodically contribute to the UN Plus newsletter and provide his views on living with HIV in- and outside of the UN system. For the first issue of the newsletter and as a way to introduce him, we are re-posting his interview from the UNAIDS website.

David Chipanta started his UNAIDS career in Liberia as the UNAIDS Country Director, where he helped to strengthen the national AIDS commission and national strategy framework. He is particularly proud of putting gender and ending sexual violence front and centre in the AIDS response in the country and giving the national network of people living with HIV more of a voice.

“What I found exciting was tackling the many barriers that surround access to HIV treatment, prevention, care and support,” he said. By barriers, he means the stigma, discrimination, poverty and inequalities that constrain people from accessing HIV services.

An economist by training, Mr Chipanta remarked, “We cannot forget the importance of all the things that relate to people’s lives—do they feel secure, do they have food, do they have a house, a family, a job?” Giving the example of Zambia, he described some people only taking their HIV medicine during the rainy season because food is more readily available then.

“It hit me that the peripheral stuff is very important, because without it HIV services will have a limited impact,” Mr Chipanta said. His current job as the UNAIDS Social Protection Senior Adviser in Geneva, Switzerland, focuses on just that—connecting people affected by HIV to social safety nets and improving livelihoods, as well as reducing poverty and improving education.

“UNAIDS has created more awareness about social protection services and the hurdles that people living with HIV face,” he said. For example, he explained that in Liberia and Sierra Leone, sex workers said they weren’t accessing social protection services because the administrators often treated them badly; in response, his office set up sensitivity training.

Another issue close to his heart is girls’ education. Keeping girls in school has been shown to lower HIV prevalence and is an important factor in increasing access to HIV treatment. “In low-income settings, we shone the light on the importance of cash transfers to keep girls in school,” Mr Chipanta said. His next challenge is advocating for more synergies with programmes for mentoring, empowerment and social support.

“As a person living with HIV, I never thought I would accomplish so much,” he said. In 1991, when he found out his HIV status in his native Zambia, he assumed that his life was over. “I thought, before I die, let me help others,” he added.

“I was personally motivated to work in the HIV field,” he said. “But I felt like I wanted to become an expert in my own right.”

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HIV in the workplace ~Snapshots of different key facets of HIV in the workplace~

by Martin Choo, MMedSc

Martin Choo runs the Kuala Lumpur AIDS Support Services Society (KLASS) which delivers community-based services in Malaysia. He is a researcher and an HIV treatment advocate. He has been researching on issues concerning HIV in the workplace in partnership with UN Plus since 2014. He will be contributing to this newsletter through a series of articles about key facets of HIV in the workplace. The articles ranges from access to treatment, stress management, confidentiality, disclosure and advocacy in the work settings.

Performing with HIV: accessing treatment and managing side effects at work

There has been a quiet revolution in HIV science over the last decade. HIV treatment today is so effective that people can lead healthy and productive lives. Crucially, they can even realistically attain a normal lifespan. Despite these medical advances, however, living with HIV still presents many challenges that affect whether people access treatment or will be retained in care. Some of the most persistent complaints are the fear of side effects from HIV medication causing PLHIV to put off starting treatment, and the inability to manage treatment side effects causing them to fall out of care.

Particular to the context of work, being treated for HIV poses two legitimate concerns: first, whether accessing treatment will cause the loss of privacy among work colleagues; and second, how treatment side effects can affect work performance and draw unwanted attention to their health. Managing these concerns are therefore pivotal to ensure the promise of treatment can be had without harming their prospects at work. The most common issues underlying these concerns are unpacked below with practical ways forward.

My boss may notice my frequent visits to the hospital

Initiating HIV treatment may require more clinic visits than usual. If you are not comfortable disclosing the reason to your boss, consider not taking medical leave every time you need to visit the clinic. Also consider getting the clinic to pack as many procedures as possible in one day to minimise the number of days you will be off-work.

The company providing my medical insurance will inform my company about my HIV status

Check your insurance policy to confirm how information will be shared and what protections are available. In most countries the confidentiality of medical information is protected by law. If protection is unavailable or you have good reason to believe that confidentiality will be breached, consider seeking legal advice.

I have to travel often or work different shifts and cannot keep up with taking medication

Consider switching to a newer HIV regimen that is more tolerant of poor adherence. Also consider taking your medication in line with periodic activity (eg. before sleeping) regardless of the actual time or time zone.

I will wait as long as I can before starting treatment

Studies have shown that treatment initiation as quickly as possible after infection will minimise complications and improve treatment outcomes. Consider speaking to your doctor about options to maximise your health and well-being.

I’ve heard so much about side effects that am not willing to risk taking medication

Find out more about the stories you have heard; in particular which medications were involved, what were the side effects and for how long. Side effects from HIV medication is common but in many cases these were mild and subsided after a few months. Include this expectation when deciding whether to start treatment.

Treatment affects my ability to function optimally at work

HIV treatment can affect the way we feel and think. If you experience poor concentration or lethargy, for example, consider taking your medication at night so that your body will have time to metabolise the medication while you are asleep. Similarly, if you have trouble falling asleep, consider taking your medication in the morning. Reach out to peers living with HIV to learn if they have side effects and, if they do, how they manage their side effects.

I really cannot stand the side effects and wish to stop treatment

Before you stop treatment, consider speaking to your doctor about ways to minimise side effects or switch to a different HIV regimen. Keep your doctor informed about the severity of side effects or if they persist longer than expected.

colleague may see me going to an HIV treatment centre

If you can choose where to receive treatment, consider a centre that is not near your place of work or one that offers general medical care rather than exclusively HIV care.

Hope this article has helped to address the most common work-related barriers to access and retain in HIV treatment. If you have any questions and would like to talk to us, please feel free to contact us. Confidentiality is guaranteed.  Also, if you are experiencing a situation that is not reflected in this article, please share your case anonymously with usfor consideration and inclusion in future articles.

If you are working in the UN system and need any further information about UN system’s policy regarding HIV, we encourage you to visit the UN Cares website.

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Living with HIV and working in the UN system ~An interview with UN Plus member~

J.B. Collier

Senior Environmental Specialist
Environment & Natural Resources
Global Practice
World Bank

Can you briefly introduce yourself? 

I’m J.B. Collier, a Senior Environmental Specialist at the World Bank and currently Chair of the UN Plus Advisory Committee. I joined the World Bank in 1994 and have spent the time since then working on regional water and environment programs in the Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and Europe and Central Asia Regions. Before joining the Bank I was a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy.

I have been HIV Positive since 2004, being relatively certain that I caught it early since regular HIV testing had always been part of my annual medical check-ups.  Initially, I was shocked and afraid of what it all meant, but also very lucky to have caught it early.  The first words out of my doctor’s mouth were “this will not affect your life span at all.” And today my normal middle-aged medical issues, slightly overweight, acid reflux, high blood pressure have nothing to do with my HIV, which remains in check with treatment and monitoring.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way both the Bank and other UN Agencies approach HIV over the last 13 years primarily in the continual reductions in budgets for awareness and advocacy programs as the disease has changed from a death sentence to a chronic, but manageable condition for the majority of staff living with HIV. I’ve remained active in UN Plus because I think it is still important to raise awareness and fight the associated stigma. Though, I readily admit that work and life don’t leave me the time I would like for working with you all on these issues.

Have you faced any challenges as a person living with HIV while pursuing your career in your organization/UN system?

Honestly, no, not once have I experienced any negative employment-related consequence as a result of my having HIV or being open about my status. However, I am painfully aware that this is not the case for others at the Bank or within the UN System.

If so, what challenges? And how have you overcome them?

I think our biggest challenge is making sure that budgets remain available for workplace awareness, management training, and testing beyond just a token show on December 1 each year. Overcoming this is difficult in the current budgetary environment. At the Bank we have tried to wrap HIV awareness into a larger Healthy Work Place program and so far, have been, I would say, moderately successful.

I know within the UN System, the shrinking of UN Cares does have a negative impact on awareness and fighting stigma. It is something I think we at UN Plus should focus on in the coming year.

Do you think your organization and the UN system provide an enabling work environment for people living with HIV?

In general, yes I do. The right policies are in place and senior management is committed to ensuring a positive work environment for all staff.

If not, in what way do they need to improve to make the workplace more enabling and inclusive?

That being said, there are outliers and those outliers need attention through awareness raising, training, and anti-stigma programs. UN Plus, UN Cares, and all of our organizations need budgets for such programs or we risk falling behind on issues where we were leaders 10 years ago.

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Editorial ~Positive Talk in Tokyo Japan~

by Yoshiyuki John Oshima, UN Plus Global Coordinator

In November 2017, I returned to my home town, Tokyo, where winter had just begun.  I arrived in Japan to accompany my boss who was invited to give a plenary speech at the conference of the Japanese Society for AIDS Research. However, I had another mission. The conference organizer also asked me to speak in one of the sessions called “Positive Talk.” It was the session in which, for the first time in the conference history, people living with HIV in Japan were invited to speak about their experiences. I am used to speaking about myself in English in front of non-Japanese audience, but it was the first time for me to speak in my own native language in front of hundreds of compatriots. This made me extremely nervous.The “Positive Talk” was scheduled on the last day of the conference. When I arrived at the session venue, I found out that the organizer had selected five speakers for the session, including myself, among dozens of candidates. I was the fifth and last to speak. As I was listening to the first speaker, I started to hear some people in the audience sobbing. They were crying because the first speaker was telling such a sad story.  He was talking about the time when his partner —also HIV-positive— had been diagnosed with cancer. Many healthcare providers rejected his partner to be admitted to their hospitals or clinics because of his HIV status. He finally found one hospital that accommodated his partner. But shortly after that, his partner passed away.

The second and third speakers’ stories were also those of their plights that made the audience cry. The second speaker talked about his experience of being rejected by his local healthcare provider in the southern part of Japan for his treatment. As a result, he was obliged to travel all the way to Tokyo (2 hours by plane) to seek treatment. The third person talked about his struggle to cope with strong side effects of his antiretroviral medications while also having had to take care of his mother with dementia.

By the time my turn came, I was already overwhelmed by the stories of my fellow speakers. I was not aware of so many difficulties people living with HIV in my own country were facing. In fact, these difficulties are encountered by people living with HIV everywhere in the world, including those of us working in the UN. In my talk, I decided to emphasize on the importance of sharing our stories and realizing that our individual circumstances are not isolated. By speaking out and sharing our stories, we know that we are not alone, and we create a “bond” between us beyond borders. In so doing, we become empowered and build resiliency to move forward.

The reason why I started this newsletter is precisely about empowerment and resiliency. I hope the newsletter gives hope to people living with HIV around the globe as much as I did so to my fellow speakers at the “Positive Talk.”

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HIV in the Workplace ~Why it matters to me~

By Laurie Newell

Laurie Newell has worked with the United Nations since 1998, at UNON, the UN System Staff College and UNFPA. Since 2006, she has led and managed UN Cares the UN system workplace programme on HIV and its related projects, including UN for All. Laurie has lived and worked on 4 continents and lives with her family in New York, though Canada still feels like home.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was living in Vancouver, Canada, completing a Bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia. I shared a small apartment, the top floor of an old house, with a friend and in the house next door, our neighbours were a man and woman in their 30s with a young son. I don’t even remember their names now. We did not know each other well, but were friendly when we met.One day, from our kitchen window, I noticed a flip chart on their back porch, with the header “Care Team” on it. A small group was meeting, it turned out, to plan how to care for our neighbour at the end of her life. She was living with HIV, in a time before anti-retroviral treatment, and she had entered the stage of AIDS.

I learned later that she had been advocate at international conferences for more HIV-related research relevant to women.

Though we had not been close, as I began to see how vulnerable I had been in high school, my neighbour’s death became a catalyst for my own involvement as a volunteer in HIV-related education in the city – through AIDS Vancouver, their Women’s project, a new organization called YouthCO, as well as the fundraising work of AIDS Walk. I spoke and did condom demonstrations in schools, gave out condoms in bars, met with young people incarcerated in a detention facility and helped facilitate planning meetings at the International AIDS Conference held in Vancouver in 1996.

The work felt urgent and I knew that if I could enable one other young person to be proactive in protecting themselves, then it was worth it.

So, in the early 2000s, when UNFPA needed someone to participate in an inter-agency working group on HIV in the workplace, I had the motivation and the background to step up. That work grew into an opportunity to lead the establishment of UN Cares – and then to lead the programme itself.

Since 2005 UN Cares has gone from being an idea floated at a meeting to being a well-recognized global programme that transmits the organization’s commitment to caring for and supporting its staff.

We have heard anecdotally from colleagues who say that hearing a UN colleague talk about their experience of living with HIV, prompted them to get tested – and some discovered they were also living with HIV – and knew they could seek and find support in the organization.

While the United Nations – made up of an ever-changing pool of more than 150,000 personnel globally – will never be a perfect workplace when it comes to HIV, the work of UN Cares team members – in an important collaboration with UN Plus – has succeeded in changing the conversation over the past decade. The willingness of HIV-positive UN staff to talk about their personal experience has repeatedly been cited as the most powerful aspect of the face-to-face learning sessions offered through UN Cares teams. The participation of UN Plus members has been central to the impact of UN Cares.

As late as 2014, a user of the UN Cares e-course on HIV in the workplace wrote in the evaluation form, “This is the first time I am learning about HIV.”

While the work will never be completely done, everyone involved should be proud of how far we have come.

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Journey Travelled ~Story of UN Plus Kenya (Part 1)~

by Jane Sinyei-Amare

Jane Sinyei-Amare is the UN Plus Coordinator in Kenya, once a chair of the global UN Plus Advisory Committee and an active member of UN Plus. She has been part of the workplace HIV program for the last 20 years in difference agencies and country offices.

I discovered my HIV status when I joined the UN system.  That was 25 years ago!  Information that was rife at the workplace was eventual death.  My mind was pre-occupied on how I would leave this world at a time that my son, then a baby could be able to take care of himself.  Now, that mindset has changed to hope and on how to impact the same on those affected around me.  Further, when I found love some ten years ago, some of my lady colleagues got together to pray over me and my intention before approaching me to dissuade me from going ahead with such a union.  Recently I got married to the same man, this time around there were many remarks that I had given many hope of taking the knot at old age.  Inside me, I knew many had in mind more on my status rather than the age.UN Plus Kenya was launched in July 2007, the 2nd to be launched in Africa after the Malawi Chapter.  Its membership was in the 80s, however this number now stands at 74 after some members either retired, found jobs in different regions or were separated.

Before 2003, we had lost not less than 32 staff due to AIDS related illnesses.  The management put in place a treatment policy that enable staff living with HIV access treatment and care at 100% medical insurance cover.  The insurance administrators met the 80% cost while the different agencies respectively met the 20% portion from their office budget.  The deaths currently have come down drastically, the reason we see more people making it to retirement.

UN Plus works closely with UN Cares and the UN Clinic (UN Joint Medical Service – UN JMS) in the area of prevention and support to staff living with HIV and their dependents, in particular access to treatment and care including support therapy. The children who were brought together for support in May 2010 are now youth. In June and September 2018, these young adults were offered a group therapy to assist them in coping with the challenges and dilemmas they encounter frequently as they grow up with HIV.Continues to Part 2…..(Editor’s note: for the “One Stop Clinic” that helped reduce the deaths among UN staff members living with HIV in Kenya, please see our study)

Continues to Part 2…..(Editor’s note: for the “One Stop Clinic” that helped reduce the deaths among UN staff members living with HIV in Kenya, please see our study)

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Living with HIV and working in the UN system ~An interview with UN Plus member~

Yvonne Kasine

Human Resources Associate
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Kigali, Rwanda

Can you briefly introduce yourself? 

I am Yvonne Kasine, a Human Resources Associate at UNICEF Rwanda and UN Plus Advisory Committee member since 2013. I joined UNICEF in 2008 and worked in Supply department for 6 years and now in Human Resources for 4 years. Before joining UNICEF, I worked with the Belgian Development Agency (ENABEL) for 8 years, in Logistics and as Administrative and Finance Manager. I am actively involved in staff well-being in UNICEF where I am a member of “Caring for Us,” UNICEF Peer Support Volunteer and UN Cares Focal point. I am a mother of four beautiful children and one grandson.

Have you faced any challenges as a person living with HIV while pursuing your career in your organization/UN system?

I am living with HIV since 2000 and HIV has never been a challenge while pursuing my career. However, when I was working with ENABEL, I was not feeling secure enough as the organization did not have any policy or programme supporting staff living with HIV. I heard about UN Plus before joining UNICEF and wished to have an opportunity to join UN. My dream came true in 2008 when I was offered a job with UNICEF tough it was a lower position compared to my previous position in ENABEL.

In order to build my career and my personal knowledge, I decided to go back to school and I completed my Bachelor Degree in Management and later my Masters in Business Administration/Supply & Procurement. My organization has provided me with many opportunities to build my capacity and that resulted in two promotions within 2 years. Some time I even forget that I live with HIV as I am treated equally like other staff and we are given some opportunities.  The most important in a career growth/development is a personal commitment being HIV positive or not.

If so, what challenges? And how have you overcome them?

Of course, in a work environment, we also have people who discriminate against staff living with HIV sometimes by ignorance. It happened that some colleagues revealed my HIV status to other people/partners without my consent but it did not harm me as I am openly living my HIV status.

Do you think your organization and the UN system provide an enabling work environment for people living with HIV?

Yes. UN System provides an enabling work environment for people living with HIV. I really appreciated that UN does not make HIV test mandatory for people joining the system. There are many policies protecting staff against stigma and discrimination and the existence of UN Plus and UN Cares contribute a lot in raising awareness among the UN Staff.

What more, if any, the UN system (or individual organizations) needs to do to make the UN work environment conducive for people living with HIV?

A lot has been done to make UN System a conducive work environment. However, there is a need to continue the advocacy for policy change especially for countries still not welcoming people living with HIV. The people working for UN in those countries are not safe as some of their rights might be violated.

You have abundance of experience in supporting staff living with HIV and mobilizing them to raise awareness on HIV in the workplace issues in your duty station. What advice would you give to colleagues in other duty stations who want to engage in support and advocacy activities for staff living with HIV in their respective offices?

The advice, I would give to those staff is to work closely with Senior management for them to support their activities in raising awareness. Partnering with staff committees and Human Resources and UN Clinic Doctors if they have them in the country.  The partnership with local networks of people living with HIV also help to strengthen and raise awareness among staff and their families. I would recommend them to organize awareness sessions where they will provide information to staff and those colleagues should make themselves available any time their support is needed.

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UN Plus at the International AIDS Conference in Durban (3)

AIDS2016_logo_website_white_bg_3Personal Experience at the AIDS 2016 Conference in Durban, South Africa

By George Njuguna (UN Plus Advisory Group/UNON)20160720_105133 - Copy


I would like to thank UNAIDS Geneva for funding my trip to Durban and the UN Plus Global coordinator for nominating me to be part of the exhibitors and providing materials and resources to display and distribute at the booth. I would also like to thank my colleagues at the booth (Dan, Jane, Charity and Yvonne). If it were it for the team’s efforts, the mission would not have been a success.

Reasons why Durban – South Africa was the best choice for the AIDS 2016 Conference

Durban is known for its gorgeous 20160719_114913 - Copycoastline, beautiful beaches and wonderful subtropical weather. Durban is a city in South Africa, a country that has the biggest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world. The country has the largest antiretroviral treatment program globally and has recently announced that people living with HIV would have access to life-saving medicines via ATMs —a plan that can be emulated by the whole world.

Key populations including Men who have Sex with Men, Sex Workers and People who inject drugs are the most affected by HIV in South Africa; these community groups drive main force towards the AIDS-Free generation.

The UN Plus / UN Cares booth at the Global Village of the AIDS 2016 Conference.

20160718_121558The UN Plus/UN Cares booth was located in the Global Village (GV), which gave participants, exhibitors and delegates an easy access to the booth throughout the conference. UN Plus/UN Cares materials and resources were available for display and distribution and they increased the level of interest in UN Plus among GV p20160719_120516 - Copyarticipants.
It was quite interesting to present a different face of UN from what many people are familiar with: The UN which has a global presence and a leading role in the global AIDS response is also doing a lot to improve the wellbeing and productivity of its personnel. Having communicated this different face with many visitors to the booth, who had come with no ideas what UN Plus or UN Cares were all about, and having helped them understand this unique workplace program was very fulfilling. However, dealing with such questions as to whether we were giving grants or hiring any people was rather challenging.

Continue reading

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