Stakeholders On HIV Seek Law To Criminalize, Stigmatization, Discrimination

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By Friday Idachaba, Lokoja

STAKEHOLDERS on HIV/AIDS pandemic in Kogi State have called for the enactment of a law to protect individuals living with HIV (PL-HIV), prevent stigmatization, discrimination and enhance realization of the UNAIDS 95-95-95 Targets.

The stakeholders made call at a One-day Stakeholders Capacity Building Meeting on Proposed Kogi State Anti-Stigma/ Discrimination Bill Campaign Project on Thursday in Lokoja.

The capacity building was organized by Initiative for Grassroots Advancement in Nigeria (INGRA) with support from Aids Health Foundation (AHF).

Part of the objectives of the proposed legislation is to achieve the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UN-AIDS) 95-95-95 targets towards ending HIV as a Public Health issue by 2030.

In his opening remarks, Hamza Aliyu, Executive Director, INGRA, said a lot of factors culminating from heightened stigma and discrimination were militating against realization of the 2030 deadline.

He described the UN-AIDS as a joint venture of the United Nations harnessing the efforts and resources of 11 UN system organizations to unite the world against AIDS through advocacy for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Aliyu said call for the legislation had become imperative in view of the fact that available data had shown that Nigeria is among countries not currently on track to reach those targets if urgent and cogent actions are not implemented.

One of such cogent actions, according to him, is the institutionalization of legal frameworks for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy and protection and dignity of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) in particular and citizens in general.

He said that the Bill would provide a legal framework to protect individuals living with HIV, prevent discrimination and integrate HIV services into the public health system to ensure privacy and access to care.

The INGRA Executive Director queried why PL-HIV are to not accorded same treatment as other human beings saying it is discriminatory to asked HIV status in job employment, admission into schools and other engagements.

He said that the law would be domiciled in the Office of the Public Defender because it’s about rights, it’s about citizens’ participation and citizens’ protection of rights and dignity.

In his goodwill message, Dr Sheidu Yunusa, Executive Secretary, Kogi State Agency for Control of AIDS (KOSACA) said stigmatization and discrimination had the potency to destroy all the efforts being made to end the HIV scourge.

He reiterated the need for domestication of the HIV Act and legislation for its enforcement and the drive towards the UN-AIDS 95-95-95 targets saying that KOSACA as an agency of government was to see to the working of the HIV response platforms through provision of services

The KOSACA Executive Secretary applauded the efforts if the Civil Society Organizations at holistically addressing the HIV pandemic and pledged the state government’s stance to sustain the services even after the exit of the CSOs.

Also in his goodwill message, Pharm. Bernard Akpa, Associate Director, Kogi State Program Center for Integrated Health Program (CIHP) said efforts so far made had failed to meet the UN-AIDS 95-95-95 Directive emphasizing the need to adopt new strategies.

Akpa said that a survey carried out in 2019 placed Kogi State on 0.9% all inclusive of HIV prevalence meaning that almost 1% of the more than four million population of the State are likely to have or already have HIV.

“We need to identify those people using the 95-95-95 UN-AIDS directive to place them on treatment and ensure that they are virally suppressed so that they don’t transmit to other people and if at all we must achieve that, we must do things differently”, he said.

Programe Officer with INGRA, Abdulfattah Ayuba in his Programme overview explained that, for individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Kogi State, the fight against the virus is compounded by a pervasive and harmful realities of stigma and discrimination.

This deeply ingrained prejudice according to him, is being helped by legal lacuna which leaves PLHIV vulnerable to discrimination in crucial areas like healthcare, employment, and education.

“Consequently, the state faces significant challenges in achieving the UN-AIDS 95-95-95 Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals related to health and wellbeing”, he said.