The issues of discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV have been stressed by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to state the need to ensure impartial and equivalent access to services and treatment by the population in Nigeria. Dr. Leo Zekeng, the Country Director of UNAIDS in Nigeria that made the call in Lagos at the 2023 retreat of the UN Joint Team on AIDS, noticed that stakeholders essentially work to decrease the treatment gaps by the major population, reduce mother-to-child transmission and reduce new infections to achieve epidemic control in Nigeria.
From his critical evaluation, he observed that testing, treatment, and ensuring equal access to quality prevention for HIV and care are vital to the elimination of AIDS. The discussion on the strengthening of public institutions to manage, own and lead a sustainable programme in Nigeria was held by The Joint UN Team on AIDS retreat. Abdulkadir Ibrahim, the National Coordinator, of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN) remarked that the major challenge in Nigeria is still the discrimination against the people living with the disease, which is discouraging many to shy away from testing to know their status.
NEPWHAN Coordinator calls for involvement of organisations.
He emphasized that there is a need to make sure that HIV programmes are community-based initiatives that are meant to be sustained. Abdulkadir added that the Key Population and Community of PLHIV should take the lead role to work as a union and support management, country ownership, Accountability for a Sustainable HIV Program, and leadership. The engagement of organisations, Community Groups, and Networks was called upon by Abdulkadir for the delivery of the needed health services in the 36 States including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
It was added that the involvement will aid a sustained implementation of the interventions beyond the time frame as the transition plan progresses. From his statement, he appealed UNAIDS to give their full support and guarantee that the Community Data are documented in national data and institution building through collaboration among members of the community to aid capacity building for the community members. Easter Hindi, the National Coordinator of Association of Women Living With HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (ASWHAN), highlighted in her presentation the low access to RHR services for women and girls diagnosed with the illness and poor enforcement of the anti-stigma bill in the state level.
Awareness should be increased on usage of ANC in rural areas.
She highlighted that there is low stock of kits or inadequate Rapid Test Kits known as RTKs for the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT). She stated her concern on issues that there is low awareness on the usage of ANC, and low PMTCT awareness in rural areas to all pregnant women, and babies that are still born with the infection. Hindi restated the importance to implement ASWHAN design empowerment initiative for the people, women, that are living with it to live a better life and enhance the sustainability program for HIV.
Valor Basi Edu, the Coordinator for Nigeria Key Populations Health and Rights Network,(NKPHRN), affirmed that it is essential to address discrimination and stigma issues on people living with HIV, most especially among the workers in the public health facilities. He called for reduction on legal barriers and policies, through a discussion with the government, which can impede the major population to gain access to health service as Citizens irrespective of sexual orientation that is the fundamental Right for Humans.
Law frowns against testing, as a condition to access health care.
Additionally, it is illegal, according to The HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act 2014 to discriminate or stigmatize any people, women or children, living with the disease in Nigeria. Additionally, this Act also frowned against the compulsory requirement for people to have testing completed before employment or as a condition or measure for people to undergo before accessing any service for instant health care service or even part of job requirements. This bill was signed into law under the tenure of the Nigerian ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, as a medium to protect the rights of the people.