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HIV/AIDS: Inside one man’s fight against discrimination

A simple statement such as, “that guy is infected,” would automatically reveal one’s HIV status to the extent as it serves as a note of warning…

A simple statement such as, “that guy is infected,” would automatically reveal one’s HIV status to the extent as it serves as a note of warning to those who interact with supposedly infected persons.

It also describes the experience of many people living with HIV/AIDS who still suffer discrimination, be it in the work place or outside, just as the case of Manger Aume, who had to leave his job because of discrimination.

“Nobody wanted to be indetified with me again, apparently because of my status. Today, I’m living a happy and normal life. I’m  gainfully engaged by donors that intervene in HIV/AIDS cases,” Aume said.

Following the increasing stigmatisation of people living with the virus, in 2014, the National Assembly passed into law, the HIV/AIDS (non discrimination) Act 2014.

Section 14 of the law places on the Attorney General of the Federation, the responsibility of oversight on all agencies and departments of government to ensure implemention of the workplace framework on persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Lawyers Alert, a Non Government Organisation (NGO) committed to sexual and reproductive health rights in a two-day workshop dissected the matter alongside other stakeholders.

Sadly, even hospitals have left much to be desired in the manner they handle those infected.

Surprisingly too, no government establishment in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, according to Lawyers Alert  can boast of any workplace policy for persons living with the virus, though the Benue State AIDS Control Agency (BENSACA) translated the anti-stigma law which came into existence early in 2014 in the state into three major languages for wider and easier understanding.

The Executive Secretary of BENSACA at that time, Mrs. Ashi Wende, said in Makurdi to distribute gazetted copies of the anti-stigma law to relevant government agencies that the simplified law translated into the three major languages in the state would help both the infected and affected understand their rights in-order to seek redress when necessary.

However, the lack of policy framework according to Lawyers Alert may have been the reason for, if not direct discrimination, indirect discrimination that victims suffer.

Incidentally, unlike Aume,  there is a case of a man that was disengaged from service based on his HIV status and there may be scores of his kind,who may have suffered similar fate but are not known.

This particular case however became known because Lawyers Alert took up the matter and secured justice for the man in the suit marked Mr. X v Mr. Jakobus Brinklow & 3 Ors.

President of the Lawyers Alert, Barr. Rommy Mom, disclosed that the victim is an employee of Kings Guard Nigeria Limited and was posted to the United States Embassy in Abuja as a security officer.

He noted that in the course of discharging his duties, the man took ill and was found to have tested positive to HIV and the embassy relieved him of his job.

Mom explained that upon briefs from the man, a law suit was initiated before the National Industrial Court, an anonymity order was sought and obtained to protect the identity of the victim and the court granted the order so that throughout the proceedings, the man’s name was not mentioned.

Speaking further,  Mom noted, “You have instances of people getting their appointments terminated because maybe in the course of work, their HIV status was found to be positive. This is because there is no work place policy on HIV/AIDS victims.

“By Section 14 of the Act, 30 days after coming into effect of the law, all work places in the country are bound to have a policy that protects the rights of this category of people,” he said.

He added that as the chief law officer, it is the duty of the Attorney General to ensure compliance with the Act, emphasising that, workplace discrimination will surely affect productivity and could be worsened by victimisation.

He further noted that though judgment would later be delivered in favour Mr. X, one can only imagine the kind of trauma he had suffered.

He therefore stressed the need for greater awareness on the constitutional provisions and awareness workplace framework for people living with

HIV/AIDS which in his estimation cannot be overemphasised.

Partners at the meeting agreed that there is the need to strenghten partnership with relevant CSOs to impress on the Attorney General to ensure implementation of workplace framework for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

They also agreed that victims could take advantage of free legal services offered by Lawyers Alert to seek redress in courts of law.

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