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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