On May 31st, Josiah Tepani, one of our members in Malawi, gave a speech to UN staff at the occasion of the annual Candlelight Memorial Day.
Mr Tepani, with courage and dignity, shared his experience of living with HIV. He raised the challenges of affording treatment and facing stigma. In an exemplary manner, he centred his thoughts around his gratefulness, hopes and aspirations, but also his willingness to stand alongside those who need it the most.
Mr. Josiah Tepani addressing his colleagues. Click here to read his speech.
UN CANDLELIGHT MEMORIAL SERVICE STORY 31st MAY 2012
By Josiah TEPANI (UN Plus Malawi)
The Head of Sub Office Marta Fontana,
The Chairperson UN Cares,
The Coordinator UN Cares
My fellow UN Staff members,
First of all, I would like to thank UN Cares Coordinator and Chairperson of UN Cares for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak during this year’s UN Candlelight memorial service.
Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, to also share with you another story of my life, as most of you know that I am an HIV positive staff member, I no longer keep my sero status a guarded secret within UN Malawi and globally. I talk openly about it, just as I am doing right now, standing before you with dignity and respect. I do so, on behalf of all HIV positive staff who have already passed and those who are still alive in the UN System. I am saying “with dignity” because a number of people still do not believe that people living with HIV are entitled to the same rights, opportunities, respect and responsibilities as any other person. This is not only unfortunate, but also misplaced in this civilized world and age and leads to high levels of stigma and discrimination in some societies today.
As I stand today, I represent all UN staff colleagues here in Malawi, globally, our dependents and our relatives. Some of who have no voice, some who have just discovered that they are living with HIV. I speak for some who are admitted in hospitals right now. Even some who are still living in denial. I also speak for some who passed away and are remembered through today‘s candlelight memorial service.
I tested HIV positive in 1998. During that time, I was not feeling well. I remember I was bedridden in the hospital, with my wife nursing me when I was informed about the result. That I have the virus. She started crying. My life changed within 24 hours after being tested. I called my doctor and asked him to explain more to me and to counsel my wife so that she understood what this meant.
The greatest challenge at that time was that ARVs were costing MK 5, 000 at Government hospitals which I could not afford. I had to beg to well-wishers for assistance to get access to ARVs. On this note let me thank Mr Abudallah who was then Head of the Sub Office and who helped me financially every month for me to buy medication, until he was transferred to another duty station outside the country. Later on, the UN Doctor, Dr Matinga at the time, and later Dr Lutwama helped me connect with the WFP Staff HIV Fund which was helping the positive staff members. I could have been history, had it not been for the treatment I was getting.
I have now adopted a positive living attitude every day and accepted that living with HIV is the same as living without HIV, as long as you live happily and positively.
The provision of anti-retroviral drugs gives me hope and I am looking forward to remaining healthy for a longer time. Keep my CD4 count as high as possible with an undetectable viral load for as long as I can, free from opportunistic infections until a cure is found and made available to all other PLHIV and give my children the chance to have a decent meal, education and the much needed security and comfort a child always expects from parents.
My status has also made me know some very inspiring people who gave me courage to live and move on. Their encouragements made me help others who thought they were okay but who discovered their status and have been saved from death through ARVs.
This commitment is evidenced in the fact that I am one of the founding members of UN Plus in Malawi because I saw a number of UN Staff members die, especially in WFP where I work, as compared to other UN Agencies. I am also one of the staff members appointed to be UN Plus Volunteers for the Southern Africa Region by UN Plus in Geneva to advocate issues of concern to staff living with HIV, raise awareness on HIV/AIDS in workplace and reach out and provide peer support to staff living with HIV.
Since I disclosed my status to my supervisor, my family and all my fellow work mates, I have now experienced that my work life is better than before. I DON’T SUFFER STIGMA OR DISCRIMINATION ANY MORE. INSTEAD, IT SUFFERS ME.
All of us living with HIV, need to overcome self-stigma and then outside stigma.
In UN Plus, we believe that our role is not to push people to disclose their status but to support them on an individual basis, as we understand each other’s situation. We are better placed to counsel one another and represent each other’s needs in decision and policy making forums.
In our effort to fight stigma and discrimination in the UN, my plea to staff living positively is to let us be involved in all UN activities in general and at all levels so that we reduce stigma and discriminations and to boost our morale as well as raise our self-esteem.
I personally appreciate the support from WFP, UN Plus and colleagues in creating a work environment that enables me to perform my duties well. I am trying to change people’s perceptions as well as share my experience and knowledge. This helps to break down the fear and prejudice by showing the faces of people living with HIV and demonstrating that we all are productive members.
Lastly, let me quote what UN Secretary General who said in a meeting we had with him in UNICEF here in Malawi last year. I quote:
“I pledge to continue the struggle to break silence and to end stigma and discrimination and increase support for everyone infected and affected by HIV /AIDS” in UN Plus and UN in General.
Such a pledge gives us hope and courage to live on, fight stigma and discrimination among all UN staff and families in all agencies. Thank you all for your attention (though it was a long speech,)
May God bless you.