Switzerland Summer 2016

All the photos above belong to Nana Tufuoh

Legal issues relating to access to HIV treatment and prevention methods

Student: Nana Tufuoh

Nana Tufuoh, a student of the UMB Carey School of Law, traveled to Geneva, Switzerland for her three-month internship with the Human Rights and Law Division at the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The Human Rights and Law team was comprised of four professionals working on a variety of human rights issues relevant to the AIDS epidemic, including discrimination and stigma, mandatory disclosure of HIV status, forced sterilization of people living with HIV, criminalization, and much more. Nana worked most extensively on researching decriminalization efforts, spanning from sex work to unintentional transmission. While researching, she came across fascinating occurrences across the globe such as forced anal examinations to “diagnose” homosexuality in Uganda, debates in the United States over whether biting by an HIV positive individual could carry harsh criminal penalties, and a Kenyan high court ruling that mothers who transmit HIV to their children through breastfeeding can be criminally punished. Outside of her daily tasks, Nana's team ensured that her internship was well-rounded; they valued her contributions to the team but also stressed the importance of her taking the time to explore offerings by other UN agencies nearby. Nana was encouraged to attend talks and conference sessions that interested her at the main UN office, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, among others.

One observation Nana made was the remarkable diversity in both her workplace and in the city at large. The UN system in Geneva, with over ten agencies’ headquarters located therein, attracts employees from all over the world, many of whom were transferred from regional offices. Unfortunately, she noted that the same regional representation was not as evident among the interns. She formed friendships with other interns from virtually every continent in the world, an invaluable network for which she is so appreciative. There was, however, a disproportionately low number of interns from developing countries. Since both UNAIDS and the WHO, located proximally, offer only unpaid internships with no possibility of financial assistance, many qualified students who may bring a unique perspective from developing nations may be left out. Many of these concerns were brought to the attention of the agencies’ executives, who seem to value diversity but may not be ready to make the necessary financial investments. This issue especially resonated with Nana because she is from a developing country and probably would not have had this internship opportunity had she not moved to the United States, been enrolled in a US educational institution, and been able to at least apply for financial support from resources such as the UMB Center for Global Education Initiatives.

"UNAIDS is a large international body that I aspire to be employed by at some point in my career. During my time there, however, my perspective on how my professional career should develop changed. I learned from conversations with well-established employees, as well as from the magnitude of my own tasks, that meaningful international work requires an understanding of pressing issues at the local level. It is one thing to read about what is happening to certain societal groups (as I researched) and another to witness the circumstances as closely as possible. Many successful UNAIDS (and WHO) employees stressed the value of 'working in the trenches,' with many being able to cite experiences such as, 'I worked for ten years in a rural community in Namibia,' or 'I founded a non-profit in a South African community.' I feel that the same is true for policy work; I would have a hard time formulating good policy without a deep awareness of the day-to-day experiences of whichever marginalized group I am representing. While I still maintain the goal of working in an international agency on a variety of health care and legal issues, I now appreciate the significance of, and am interested in engaging in, more local and regional experience before reaching the global arena."