As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the 2019 Zero Discrimination Day against persons living with AIDS, the Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS, NIBUCAA in collaboration with HACEY Initiatives, has highlighted the urgent need to take action against laws which exclude persons living with HIV/AIDS from essential services or subject them to undue restrictions on how they live their lives.
At a media and youth forum which was sponsored by Access Bank Plc to commemorate UNAIDS Zero Discrimination Day in Lagos on Friday, Executive Secretary of NIBUCAA, Gbenga Alabi, said everyone can play a part in ending discrimination and can try to make a difference, in ways both big and small.
He also emphasized the importance of creating public awareness to the plights of persons living with ADS/HIV, adding that 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. It is not just enough that we talk and laws and policies that remain dormant, but we must also take actions,” he said.
In his own comment, Programme Director of HACEY Initiatives, Owolabi Isaiah, said due to stigma and discrimination, 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 services.
He said despite advances in the prevention and treatment of HIV, the shadow of HIV stigma still looms large, 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.
“By separating the two, you’ll be better equipped to lay out a strategy to not only overcome your fears but to better protect yourself against possible, real acts of discrimination or abuse,” he added.
One of the panelist at the forum titled ‘Raising awareness, mobilizing and taking action on ending discrimination against persons living HIV in Nigeria’, Fred Adegboye said resolving the issue of stigma is very important in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Adegboye, who said he’s HIV positive, stated that people should stop stigmatization because those 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.
“Stigma and discrimination is an affront to human rights and puts the lives of people living with HIV and key populations in danger.”
Another panelist, Ben Paul argued 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, 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.
Also speaking at the event, Head of Sustainability at Access Bank Plc, one of the key partners of NIBUCAA, Mrs. 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, Mrs. 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.
The Zero Discrimination Day since 2014 has been commemorated annually on the 1st of March as a global event that promotes diversity and recognizes that everyone counts.