In commemoration of the 2019 Zero Discrimination Day against persons living with AIDS, the Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS (NIBUCAA) in collaboration with HACEY Initiatives, has called for the cancellation of laws that excludes persons living with HIV/AIDS from essential services in the society.
The stakeholders, who spoke at a media and youth forum, sponsored by Access Bank in Lagos on Friday, executive secretary of NIBUCAA, Gbenga Alabi, said the quest to ending discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was a collective responsibility of every citizen of Nigeria.
He also emphasized the importance of creating public awareness to promote the plights of persons living with AIDS/HIV.
Alabi explained that the lack of protective law enforcement and the existence of punitive laws increases stigmatization and discrimination that hinders access to HIV services for patients.
“My call this year is focused on changing discriminatory laws and practices that block people from accessing health and other life-saving services. It is not just enough that we talk and laws and policies that remain dormant, but we must also take actions,” Alabi said.
Head of Sustainability at Access Bank Plc, one of the key partners of NIBUCAA, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan said the bank has been in the forefront of the campaign against the stigmatization of persons living with HIV.
While urging Nigerians to stop stigmatisation against HIV and AIDS patients, Victor-Laniyan said adopting a human rights approach to HIV and AIDS is in the best interests of public health and is key to eradicating stigma and discrimination.
Also, Programme Director of HACEY Initiatives, Owolabi Isaiah, said young people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria go through all forms of human right violations that expose them to isolation, low self-esteem and lack of interest in seeking help or accessing social services.
He said despite efforts to promote the prevention and treatment of HIV, the stigma still persists, affecting many living with the disease. “While the quality of life has improved enormously for people with HIV in the past years, many of the same social and psychological barriers remain.”
Owolabi said learning to overcome HIV stigma is not always an easy thing as it requires a degree of self-reflection, as well as an honest assessment of victims own personal biases and beliefs.
A panelist at the forum Fred Adegboye, spoke on the title, ‘Raising awareness, mobilizing and taking action on ending discrimination against persons living HIV in Nigeria’, said stigmatization remains the major challenge in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Adegboye, who disclosed that he is HIV positive, said persons living with HIV are normal human beings and living with HIV should not be an issue rather to support them to go for medical treatments.
Another panelist, Ben Paul opined that stigmatization creates an unnecessary culture of secrecy and silence based on ignorance and fear of victimization.
He explained that adolescents living with HIV are growing up with limited psychosocial support, stating that their sexuality, psychological and social needs are also unattended to.
According to him, stigma and discrimination happen in different forms and in numerous places and can be executed consciously and unconsciously.