By Xavier Orellana
UN Cares, the UN system-wide workplace programme on HIV held its regional meeting for West and Central Africa on 8 – 13 April 2013, gathering 53 participants from 22 countries.
This meeting consisted of a three-day workshop where countries shared their achievements and challenges in regards to implementing this inter-agency programme. Participants were able to get acquainted with new materials and tools, such as a new e-course that all UN organisations will soon offer for their staff worldwide.
This meeting also included 3 days of "training of facilitators" to prepare participants for delivering learning sessions in their respective duty stations. UN Cares learning sessions are usually 4 hours long, and cover the basic information about HIV prevention, treatment, care, and UN policies about HIV in the UN workplace.
Participation from UN staff members who are openly living with HIV and who represented UN Plus (the UN HIV positive staff group) was especially valuable during this workshop. One person shared several experiences where she faced stigmatizing attitudes and treatment while working at the United Nations. "I blame these attitudes on ignorance, on fear; and I trust that as people learn about HIV they will stop treating us unjustly, and differently" she added.
Equally inspirational for participants were the words of Dr. Leopold Zekeng, Deputy Regional Director of UNAIDS who opened the meeting. "UN Cares is a true example of the UN delivering as one. We will only be able to speak to countries and governments around the world about reaching 3 Zeroes (zero new infections, zero AIDS related deaths, and zero stigma and discrimination) when we ourselves have reached that goal in our workplace, which should be a model in this regard" Dr Zekeng mentioned in his opening words.
In his closing remarks, speaking on behalf of Mr Benoit Kalasa, Regional Director of the United Nations Population Fund , Dr. Sibili Yelibi, Regional Technical Advisor for HIV / AIDS (UNFPA) invited participants to take advantage of the resources acquired during the workshop to allow the United Nations personnel and their families to benefit from the UN Cares programme.
With more than seven million persons living with HIV, which represents a 2,5% prevalence, and with half a million new infections per year, West and Central Africa is one of the world's regions most affected by the AIDS epidemic.