UN Looks Within, Launches HIV Initiative for Staffers

The United Nations yesterday launched a new workplace program on HIV to provide such services as training, counseling, and testing for its staff and their families, marking what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was a "milestone" for the world body's response to the virus. The program, "UN Cares," aims to make available the staff, time, and resources needed to meet 10 minimum standards--including insurance coverage and access to condoms--by the end of 2011.

"Since the early 1990s, the impact of the virus on our work and on the communities we serve has been historic in magnitude," Ban said at the program's kick-off at UN Headquarters in New York. "At the same time, our workplace, our staff, and our families are profoundly affected." The challenge is made greater by the global nature of the UN workplace and its personnel, and because the world body's work encompasses many activities, cultures and conditions, he added.

"Many UN staff members are still not well prepared to protect themselves and their families from HIV," Ban noted. "Others may be afraid to be tested, or uncomfortable working with colleagues living with HIV."

The new system-wide program seeks to work in tandem with the advocacy and support network for UN staff living with HIV and fight workplace stigma and discrimination, among other goals. To date, 15 UN entities have pledged some $1.3 million to UN Cares, and Ban announced at the kick-off that the UN Secretariat will donate $350,000 as part of an initial contribution. He pledged to make the UN a model workplace for its response to HIV/AIDS, but cautioned that "our performance will be only as good as the commitment and contribution of every one of us."

To this end, the Secretary-General urged staff to familiarize themselves with essential facts about HIV, protect themselves from transmission of the virus and take part in UN Cares learning sessions. "We can make our UN family stronger, more coherent, and more responsive to the needs of all staff and their families," he said. "We can unite to show that the UN cares."

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