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Rights activist seeks to end discrimination against those with AIDS
Thursday 10 March 2005
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NIGERIA: Rights activist seeks to end discrimination against those with AIDS

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  George Osodi

People living with AIDS in Nigeria demand rights

ABUJA, 9 May (PLUSNEWS) - Femi Soyinka, one of Nigeria's leading human rights activists, has decided to take a public stand against the discrimination suffered by more than one million of his countrymen and women who are living with AIDS.

Soyinka, a former professor of medicine at Ife University in southwestern Nigeria, told IRIN that people living with the HIV virus and AIDS were often shunned by other members of society and treated like criminals.

But he warned that their marginalisation was a major factor causing the continued spread of the epidemic in Africa's most populous country.

Speaking on the sidelines of Nigeria's fourth national conference on AIDS in the capital Abuja, Soyinka said: “The effort of promoting the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS has been ineffective in Nigeria. The criminalisation of HIV is always an issue.”

“We are worrying because the lack of respect for human rights increases the impact of the HIV epidemic,” said Soyinka, who now runs a non-governmental organisation called Healthcare and Support.

The professor, who is due to chair an International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa in Abuja next year, illustrated the impact of discrimination against people living with AIDS with a some pathetic examples from his own experience.

“How can we imagine that a child who lives in an auto park can escape from HIV infection ?” he asked.

“What happened to this woman, a nurse, sacked from her job and unable to get a redress because the judge refused to allow her to come inside the court because she was HIV positive ?”

“What about this 14-year old girl, born in the north and sold to an old man, who ends up in a brothel in Lagos, unprotected but HIV positive, hundred kilometers far from her home?”

Soyinka said the government had yet to formulate and implement clear guidelines for ensuring that people living with AIDS were fairly and humanely treated.

“Unfortunately, we still lack of a protocol policy,” Soyinka said. “For over five years ago now we have been concerned that we need a policy that we can use to address the issue of stigmatization and discrimination.”

A recently published sentinel survey, based on the voluntary testing of pregnant women at ante-natal clinics throughout Nigeria, indicated that one in 20 of Nigeria's estimated population of 126 million was infected with the HIV virus that will one day develop into full-blown AIDS. It also predicted that HIV prevalence would increase sharply over the next five yars.

Nigeria already has the third largest number of people living with AIDS in the world after South Africa and India.

Soyinka criticised the inadequate availability and distribution of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that can improve the health of people living with AIDS and extend their lives.

The Nigerian government launched a pilot programme in January 2002 to provide subsidised ARV therapy to 15,000 people throughout the country at a cost of around US$7 per month. However, the project has been plagued by poor organisation and interruptions in the supply line of ARV drugs.

Soyinka described this pilot programme, which has shelved plans to increase the number of beneficiaries to 30,000, as grossly inadequate.

“Antiretroviral treatement is essential to life for one million people in Nigeria,” he said. “But these drugs are not properly distributed, increasing the disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.”

“It’s one thing to provide antiretroviral drugs, it’s an other thing to get access to them," he said. "It’s an area where we want to see changes and improvement."

Soyinka lamented that for the most part in Nigeria, ARV treatment was only available to those who could afford the drugs at commercial prices. “Commercial interest has supremacy over public health interests. All the rights of women, of children, of the minorities are violated,” he said.

Soyinka also complained about traditional healers who claim to offer AIDS cures, saying these were unlicenced and had not been scientifically proven to be effective.

“We’ve a situation today where ‘specialists’ are conducting trials without ethnical norms with disastrous effects on our population,” he said.

Soyinka accused these “specialists” of experimenting with traditional drugs and all kinds of “vaccines” on low-income and largely uneducated people, who cannot afford to buy medecine at free market prices, but still hope for effective treatment.

“Trying products on people without ethical backing needs to be stopped in this country”, Soyinka said. “But the bottom line is there’s no official ethical back up.”

“In the area of ethics, human rights and HIV/AIDS, we’ve done too little and too late,” Soyinka said bitterly. “It is high time to redress the situation.”


Recent NIGERIA Reports
Authorities predict 250,000 people on ARVs by mid-2006,  1/Mar/05
MSF to expand HIV/AIDS treatment scheme,  24/Jan/05
Restocked rollout expanded,  16/Dec/04
Conference to seek HIV/AIDS solutions,  17/Sep/04
Government plans ambitious expansion of antiretroviral therapy,  20/Aug/04
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
International HIV/AIDS Alliance
International Council of AIDS Services Organisations (ICASO)
Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS

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