Friends of UN Plus in Swaziland, Mozambique

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Feature story

Friends of UN Plus in Swaziland, Mozambique

21 September 2009

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President of Swaziland AIDS Support Organization (SASO) Mr. Vusi Matgerula addressing the event on behalf of the people living with HIV movement in Swaziland. Credit: UNAIDS/G.Williams

Strengthening efforts towards a stigma-free work environment for United Nations staff living with HIV and their families, UN Plus has launched a new Friends of UN Plus initiative in Swaziland. Keeping up the momentum to break down barriers and silence around HIV in southern Africa, this will be followed by the launch of a similar initiative in Mozambique on September 23.

Friends of UN Plus is a novel initiative by UN Plus, an advocacy and support group comprising staff members who are living with HIV. UN Plus membership in the southern African region has doubled in the last year but many staff members living with HIV still feel fearful of disclosing their status. Although UN Plus has a non-disclosure policy, the reluctance to disclose HIV status reflects high stigma levels in society. The Friends initiative, therefore, is meant to provide a supportive environment to those who have reservations about being openly associated with UN Plus. 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.

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Dr. Jama Gulaid, UNICEF Representative and UN HIV/AIDS Theme Group chair for Swaziland addressing the launch of Friends of UN+ in Mbabane, Swaziland on 17 September 2009. Credit: UNAIDS/G.Williams

''Today was a bold and decisive step we took for us to launch this initiative.  I am so glad that staff will now have a platform to share safely and a space for outreach.  It does not hurt to help and to reach out.  We can all do something to make life better for those in our families, offices and communities living with HIV," said an HIV positive staff member of the UN in Swaziland.

The country launches are designed to highlight workplace rights and continue the ongoing dialogue on human rights, treatment needs and challenges of people living with HIV. Through training, meetings, treatment literacy sessions and related activities the initiative aims to educate staff members about UN Plus’ contribution towards reduction of stigma and discrimination, promotion of social acceptance and increase of social, legal and leadership commitment for HIV at the UN system workplace.

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Group photo of participants at the launch of Friends of UN Plus in Mbabane, Swaziland on 17 September 2009. Credit: UNAIDS/G.Williams

The Swaziland launch included a panel discussion where representatives of people living with HIV answered questions from the local press on issues of equality and rights. Two members of the local media joined the panel to share their experiences of how they cover stories of people living with HIV in a meaningful way.

Friends of UN Plus will operate in tandem with UN Cares, the UN HIV in the workplace programme, the UN Wellness Program and other workplace initiatives and agency-specific programmes that exist at country levels.