By Peter Duru, Makurdi
A working committee would soon be set up in Benue State for the purpose of advocacy, awareness and affirmative actions to eliminate stigmatisation of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The decision was arrived at yesterday during a one day ‘Stigma Clinic’ organised by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) in Makurdi the Benue State capital.
Speaking at the clinic, AHF-Nigeria Advocacy & Marketing Manager, Mr. Steve Aborisade said it was time that stakeholders rallied together to find lasting solutions to the twin challeges of stigma and discrimination which individuals face due to their HIV positive status.
“AHF is a friend of the patient and community and is committed to supporting avenues for dialogue by government, clients and other stakeholders who are crucial to finding a lasting solution to the problem which the ‘stigma clinic’ is out to address,” Aborisade said.
Benue State Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mr. TyoyerJoshua in his presentation encouraged those who are “affected or infected” with HIV/AIDS to speak out as there was a law in place against discrimination to fight their case.
Tyoyer, who took participants through the Anti – Discrimination Act, 2014, warned that there were penalties for individual and institutional discrimination as well as disclosure of information without consent.
He assured that the NHRC was ready to partner AHF in the state to achieve desired results.
Senior Regional Medical Manager of AHF, Benue State Office, Dr. Greg Abiaziem, told participants at the clinic that stigma remained the greatest driving force that was inhibiting the control of the AIDS pandemic.
He said “there is the urgent need for stakeholders to join hands to eradicate stigmatization.”
Dr. Abiaziem who commended the Benue State Government for providing AHF with the enabling environment to operate in the state however said, “there is the need for the government to do more in terms of support and funding.”
The Benue State AIDS Programme Coordinator Dr. John Ugboji, commended AHF for organising the clinic. He said the major problem in the fight against HIV/AIDS was stigma, insisting that the moment it was eradicated, the pandemic would be brought under control.
Emotions were however let loose as cleints shared their experiences with respect to stigmatisation. “Even my sisters at home warned me to stop sharing things with them. I was given my cup and plates and I dare not touch what others use” a minor, who was born with the condition said.
Another client in an emotion ladened voice on his part said, “the hospital staff who attended to me did not disclose my status to me and went about telling people that I was positive. I confronted them and once it was revealed to me I accepted my condition, and today, in my community, people come to me for help.”
Other detailed tales of serious stigmatisation and violations of rights got participants on their toes and led to the decision to rise up to the occasion to save lives with the formation of a Civil Society Working Group on Stigma in Benue state that would document, resolve, educate and push for prosecution or as the case may be, any incidence of stigmatisation that undermines the wellbeing of others.
Stakeholders at the clinic include government officials, civil society organisations, agencies of government and social associations.in attendance were representatives of
the Ministry of Health Makurdi, Benue State Action Committee Against AIDS (BENSACA), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), positive Media Health Initiative (PMHI), Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Benue State (NEPWAN) Association of Women Living With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (ASWHAN), Association of Young People Living With HIV/AIDS In Nigeria (AYPIN), Muslim Women Association of Nigeria and members of the press.