The campaign dubbed: “The stigma fuels HIV and AIDS,” is an initiative by an advocacy group of UN staff Living With HIV designed to create awareness about the negative impact of HIV associated stigma.
The campaign also focussed on the provision of information about HIV in general as the UN strives to ensure that the workplace becomes a model to fight the stigmatisation of persons living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHAs), provide training to employees about the prevention of HIV and AIDS, treatment access and options for care and the adoption of policies to ensure a fair and respectful environment for PLWHAs.
The UNAIDS Resident Co-ordinator, Mr Leopold Zekeng said HIV –related stigma remained a serious issue at the workplace across the UN system.
He said the campaign had received support from some agencies and expressed the hope that other bodies would come on board to deal with the problem.
Mr Zekeng said a proportion of the UN staff sensitised on the basic facts about the disease increased from 90 per cent in 2009 to 95 per cent in 2010.
He said activities for 2011 included scaling up to cover the remaining staff and their families and to establish a support group for PLWHAs.
Ms Ruby Sanhu- Rojon, UN Resident Co-ordinator in Ghana noted that stigma and discrimination against PLWHAs was often worse than the disease, adding that these negative attitudes fuelled the transmission of the disease and had greatly increased the negative impact associated with the epidemic.
She said although HIV was not a death sentence the stigmatisation of patients could prevent them from seeking medical attention with the potential of impacting negatively on their health and productivity.
Mrs Elsie Ayeh, an Inter Agency HIV facilitator who has tested positive said she was the lone voice for UN body but had braved the odds to let people know that being positive was not a death warrant.
Sharing her story at the launch, she said she had been living with the infection for nine years and was still strong and going about her duties efficiently.
Mrs Aryeh said she had been in a bad state before and could have died, but advised that people should test and know their HIV and AIDS status to enable them access treatment and take the right steps for a healthy living.
She said she did not care about what people thought of about “having the disease because it is just like having a malaria parasite or any non- communicable disease and I am an example to all”.
Ms Akua Ofori Asumadu of the International Labour Organization observed that the fight against stigma and discrimination was an enormous one taking into account that out of the two per cent of UN staff who were positive only one person was bold enough stick her neck out.
She said stigma was a deep feeling of being treated differently because of one’s status and was therefore pertinent on the UN system to put in place a workplace policy to generate effective communication at the workplace.
“There is a remedy for stigma in a conducive working environment that is why this campaign is welcomed and timely,” she said.
Stigma can lead to discrimination and other violations of human rights which affect the well being of PLWHAs.
There are well documented cases of PLWHAs being denied the right to healthcare, work, education and freedom of movement, among other things.