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Moves to halt discrimination against those with AIDS, HIV in Nigeria make inroads

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 25th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There is new legislation in Nigeria that would make the discrimination of those who suffer from the HIV/AIDS virus illegal. It couldn't come at a better time, as almost three million people in Nigeria have AIDS, and fail to seek medical help due to negative attitudes.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria, more than half of these three million people are eligible for anti-retroviral drugs. Even worse, more than 80 percent of Nigerians as a whole do not know their HIV status.

"That also means that people continue to infect their loved ones - their partners, their wives, their husbands - unknowingly and HIV will continue to spread unabated," Edward Ogenyi, the network's national coordinator says.

Ogenyi said that most Nigerians learn of their HIV positive status while at a local hospital for another reason. Many women, Ogenyi added, avoid giving birth in hospitals because they don't want to be tested for HIV and risk being stigmatized.

Seven Nigerians had been arrested on HIV-related charges in 2011.

Kunle Adeniyi, the senior legal officer at the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, said that if laws to protect HIV/AIDS patients are enacted it will be illegal for institutions to cast out a student or employee for testing positive and force large companies to implement HIV/AIDS policies.

The bill will likely be passed within the year. The law also criminalizes forced HIV testing and disclosure.

"For discrimination against individuals or groups you have punishments ranging from fines to terms in prison," he said.

If the legislation passes, Nigeria will be far ahead of much of the African continent in terms of protecting the rights of HIV/AIDS patients.

"Everybody has to realize that all of our efforts have been on prevention and treatment," he said. "Hence, we must have bedrock in the protection of the rights of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS."

Current laws in Nigeria along with other developing nations tend to discriminate against AIDS patients and discourage people from seeking treatment.

Released by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the study says that 60 countries, including the United States, have laws that criminalize the transmission of the virus.

"Punitive laws, discriminatory and brutal policing and denial of access to justice for people with, and at risk of, acquiring HIV are fueling the epidemic," the report says. "These legal practices create and punish vulnerability."

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