Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination law: Enforcement as key

The HIV and AIDS Anti-Discrimination ACT 2014 signed into law by Nigeria's former President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, is a reflection of the country's commitment to stopping all forms of stigmatization and discrimination targeted at People Living With HIV/ AIDS, PLWHA.

This landmark legislation makes provisions for the prevention of HIV-related discrimination and provides for access to healthcare and other services.

It also provides for protection of the human rights and dignity of people living with HIV and those affected by AIDS in Nigeria.

According to Part II, Sub-section 4 (1 and 2) of the Law; Every individual, community, institutions and employer shall take steps to protect the human rights of people living with or affected by HIV or AIDS by eliminating HIV related discriminations in all settings, including employment, health and educational institutions, policies and practices.

(2) Every individual, community and employer shall take steps to promote equality of opportunity and treatment and non-discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV status and HIV related illness.

How has this law translated into reality? Ms Ajani Abiola, South West Coordinator, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, NEPWHAN, in an interview said that stigma and discrimination remains high even in an urban areas like Lagos state and wondered what the case would be in rural areas

Making this known recently at a media training in Lagos organised by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, Abiola lamented that the law was not fully implemented as PLWHAs are still faced with pockets of discrimination in Nigeria.

Giving a real life situation, she said, "in Lagos at a general hospital, a pregnant PLWHA at an antenatal care (ANC) clinic, the doctor in charge have been checking on other patients but when it got to the turn of this individual could not palpate her, claiming she doesn't have hand sanitizer.  Whilst the doctor have been palpating other pregnant women without hand sanitizer."

The point is, Abiola said, "it is discriminatory as we all know that no one can be infected with HIV by touching. If a doctor can still have this notion that by mere touch, HIV virus can be transmitted, then Nigeria still have a long way to go."

She also pointed out that the attitude of some health workers towards PLWHIV as well as personnel's working in Heart To Heart Centre is rather unfair, stating that, "I have been to a General Hospital here in Lagos where a nurse was calling another nurse HIV! Just because she works in Heart To Heart Centre. That is stigmatising.

"The nurse might not feel bad but if there was any PLWHA, he or she will definitely not be happy."

Abiola urged the media to educate the public on the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Law and the need for strict enforcement, stating that PLWHA are humans and should be treated with respect.

Speaking on the Act, Mrs Toyin Aderibigbe, Head of Public Relations and Protocol, NACA, added that many HIV positive people lack the courage of owning up to their status due to fear of stigma and end up not preventing the disease or treating it.

She said, "everyone also needs to know their individual right especially People Living With HIV/AIDs because stigmatisation kills faster than the disease itself."

While Nigeria is making progress towards achieving zero HIV society by 2030, there is need to eradicate stigma and discrimination of PLWHA.

To keep the efforts towards HIV eradication, Dr. Ogbonna Amanze, Head of Research Unit NACA, said with the right leadership in place and support of the international donors with increasing domestic funds, the country will reach its set targets.

Amanze stated that the results of the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey, NAIIS, revealed that in 2017, 3.1 million (2.1 – 4.4) people were living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria while 210,000 (110,000 – 320,000) new HIV infections and 150,000 (86,000 – 230,000) AIDS related deaths were recorded.

"The new trend is that there is a decline in the number of people with HIV/AIDS. Current national HIV prevalence is 1.4 per cent amongst adult between ages 15-49 years with a total estimate of 1.9 million people living with HIV in Nigeria.

"While prevalence rate among female is 1.9 percent among ages 30 -39 years and it is significantly higher than 0.9 percent for the male between the ages of 50-54 years. HIV incidence is 8.0 percent that is 10,000 persons across both genders and ages group while viral load suppression is 42.3 percent between."

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