The United Nations (UN) in Liberia has joined Mozambique, Swaziland, Rwanda and Ghana in launching the 'Friends of UN Plus' as part of its efforts to achieve a work environment that is free from stigma for all UN staff living with HIV and their families.
UN Plus is a global group of UN staff living with HIV which has more than 200 members worldwide from across different UN agencies. Its members advocate for issues that are of concern to staff living with HIV such as access to healthcare, ensuring no discrimination based on HIV status and maintaining confidentiality.
Despite the advocacy efforts that UN Plus has made to date, many staff members living with HIV still feel fearful of talking about their status. The Friends initiative, therefore, is meant to provide a supportive environment to staff living with HIV by all UN staff members regardless of their HIV status. It aims to be a forum through which the needs of HIV-positive staff and those caring for HIV-positive friends and family can be articulated and addressed.
The establishment of the 'Friends of UN Plus' was proposed and approved by the UN Theme Group in Liberia based on reports showing that 21 UN staff members tested positive between 2009 and 2012 out of 300. This HIV prevalence (17%) is significantly higher than the Liberia's national HIV prevalence which currently is 1.5%.
The 'Friends of UN Plus' will implement various activities for staff living with HIV, including events and campaigns to sensitize the UN community around HIV-related stigma and discrimination and support groups for staff living with HIV. The group will also partner with the national network of people living with HIV to address issues that are of concern to staff living with HIV such as access to HIV treatment.
The launch of the 'Friends of UN Plus' took place at the UNAIDS Country Office in Monrovia and was attended by more than 70 guests including the Resident Coordinator (a.i.), the UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Heads of UN Agencies in Liberia, representatives from the National AIDS Commission and civil society organizations as well as family members of UN staff.
The UN Resident Coordinator (a.i.), Madam Esperance Fundira, described the initiative as a key mechanism through which the UN can renew its commitment to provide financial and human resources to staff living with HIV. According to her, it provides an opportunity to strengthen the anti-stigma campaign in Liberia, and work towards a stigma-free work environment for UN staff.
Dr Betru Woldesemayat, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in Liberia, termed the launch of the Friends of UN Plus as a significant milestone in the AIDS response in Liberia, especially in its on-going efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination within and outside of the UN. “Sensitizing UN staff members on all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination will help our colleagues living with HIV to overcome their fear of potential repercussions of disclosing their HIV status at work,” he said.
Prior to the launch, UNAIDS and UN Cares met with the National AIDS Commission and a national network of PLHIV (LIBNET+) to identify ways to reach out to more employees living with HIV in Liberia, providing them with support and creating an enabling environment for them and their families.