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Stigma, discrimination endanger lives of people living with HIV

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By Sola Ogundipe

AS Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate  the 2019 Zero Discrimination Day, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA said it would continue to advocate for the protection of Nigerians against HIV-related discrimination at all levels in the country.

An estimated four million Nigerians are living with HIV.  Since 2014, the Zero Discrimination Day has been commemorated annually on the 1st of March as a  global event that promotes diversity and recognises that everyone counts. In 2019, UNAIDS highlights the urgent need to take action against discriminatory laws  as declared in 2017.

HIV

In a report, the Director General of NACA, Prof Sani Aliyu emphasised the importance of creating public awareness on the country’s 2014 National HIV and AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act.

”The Act makes it an offence to discriminate on the basis of one’s real or perceived HIV status,”  Aliyu argued.

“It also prohibits any employer, individual or organisation from requiring a person to take an HIV test as a precondition for employment or access to services.”

The NACA DG wants Nigerians to take advantage of the 2014 Anti-Discrimination Act to know their rights and protect themselves from all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

He says legal protection against HIV-related discrimination is an essential prerequisite for an effective national HIV response.

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The HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act 2014 signed in 2016 makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on their HIV status. It also prohibits any employer, individual or organisation from requiring a person to take an HIV test as a precondition for employment or access to services.

The law protects the rights and dignity of people living with HIV and is expected to create a supportive environment for people living with HIV . It has set precedence for more laws to be simplified in the country and for more orientation to be carried out.“Zero discrimination remains at the core of ending AIDS by 2030 and is one of the cardinal points of the visionary goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030. Others are zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related illnesses.

Discrimination can be institutionalised through existing laws, policies and practices that negatively target people living with HIV and marginalized groups.  Stigma and discrimination happen in different forms and in numerous places and can be executed consciously and unconsciously.

Legal protection against HIV-related discrimination is an essential prerequisite for an effective national HIV response.

The lack of protective law enforcement and the existence of punitive laws can feed stigma and discrimination and hinder access to HIV services for people living with HIV.

“My call this year is focused on changing discriminatory laws and practices that block people from accessing health and other life-saving services,” said  UNAIDS Executive Director, and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Michael Sidibe.

“Stigma and discrimination is an affront to human rights and puts the lives of people living with HIV and key populations in danger.”

Discrimination can be institutionalized through existing laws, policies and practices that negatively target people living with HIV and marginalised groups. Stigma and discrimination occur in different forms and may not necessarily be a deliberate or conscious action.

Sidibe stated that the world celebrated advocacy and activism bringing the world closer to zero discrimination and the actions and laws that help to ensure that everyone  can live with dignity.

“On Zero Discrimination Day, and every day, let’s act together to change discriminatory laws.

“Laws should protect, not reject. Every person has an equal right to be treated with dignity and respect. All countries must carefully review their laws and policies to ensure equality and protection for all people, with no exceptions,” Sidibe remarked.

All countries are to support the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate all Forms of HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination.

“Zero discrimination is essential to achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. All over the world, people are unable to live with dignity because of laws and practices that discriminate.

“Some countries still impose travel restrictions on people living with HIV. In 29 countries women require the consent of their spouse or partner to access sexual and reproductive health services.”

UNAIDS says a discriminatory law may be amended or abolished through parliamentary processes and parliamentarian votes, which require awareness among parliamentarians. It may also be abolished through a petition and request for a national vote or referendum or through legal action by affected individual or organisations.

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