By George Njuguna (UN Plus Advisory Group/UNON)
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 coastline, 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.
The 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 participants.
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.
Management of the booth was enhanced by the following factors:
- A clear and visible layout which attracted visitors from a distance.
- A good mix of right people from diverse backgrounds and with first-hand experience of the workplace programs, which made it possible for visitors to talk to a person they felt comfortable with.
- Use of simple giveaways e.g. chocolates, UN Plus badges and business cards in addition to taking and sharing photos with visitors to serve as their memory.
- Rotational manning of the booth ensured that the booth was attended at all time and this gave the booth attendants enough time to visit other booths at the GV on alternate basis.
It was a good feeling to interact with different visitors from various diverse backgrounds. Seeing young people so eager to learn how the UN is doing to improve the lives of staff living with HIV made me realize how lucky I am to work with the UN. All young people I met expressed their interest in working with the UN system. I also had a lot to learn from some GV participants on how they address stigma and discrimination in their respective workplace settings.
Information on “One Stop Clinic” in Kenya attracted great interest of many visitors to the booth. Many felt that, if such arrangement were implemented in their workplaces, it would be of great use to their work settings. As one of the beneficiaries of “One Stop Clinic,” I enjoyed sharing this topic over and over. Networking and creating informal relationships with various stakeholders was quite interesting. It was amazing how much UN Plus members could gain from such networking —be it about accessing free treatment and care or psychosocial support.
Among other booths in the GV, I was able to visit and interact with colleagues of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). I was able to learn that they offer free access to treatment and care in most parts of the world. This could be a useful funding mechanism when one needs to link colleagues or their dependents who are not covered by the UN medical plan. Listening to real stories from real people at the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) booth reminded me that the world is still very far from eliminating stigma and discrimination. However, I was really encouraged to learn that there exists such forum that brings together people like us for advocacy and psychosocial support. At the local level, I interacted with many organizations working for key populations, who aim at making AIDS-Free generation possible.
A lot of emphasis on the conference was given to key populations (LGBTI, Sex Workers, People who Inject Drugs and People Living with Disabilities). I was able to interact with them, listen to their stories and understand their vulnerabilities. All these put me in a better position to understand more on the new UN Cares modules on human rights, UN for All.
The experience and lessons learnt at the Conference will be very useful in my capacity as a member of the UN Plus Global Advisory Group representing Kenya.
Read George’s formal trip report → here.