Nigeria, discrimination against workers with HIV

By Chukwuma Muanya and Collins Olayinka

AS the country joins the rest of the world to mark the 2009 World AIDS Day today, the country has recorded a 46.7 per cent drop in Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) infection in seven years.

Also, a new data in the 2009 AIDS epidemic update released at the weekend by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), showed that globally, new HIV infections have been reduced by 17 per cent in the past eight years.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have also called for proactive steps to stem discrimination against workers living with HIV.

The report indicated that since 2001, when the United Nations Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS was signed, the number of new infections in sub-Saharan Africa is approximately 15 per cent lower, which is about 400,000 fewer infections in 2008.

Director-General, National Agency on the Control of AIDS (NACA), Prof. John Idoko, told The Guardian: “Going by the sero-prevalence and the Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey (IBSS), the HIV epidemic is dropping. For example, the prevalence among young people aged between 15 and 24, which reflects new infections has dropped from six per cent in 2001 to 3.2 per cent in 2008.”

According to UNAIDS, Nigeria has the third largest number of HIV infections in the world, with roughly four million men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS.

The World AIDS Day, celebrated on December 1, draws together people from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. The day is one of the most visible opportunities for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high-prevalence countries and around the world.

According to 2008 figures released by WHO, there are now 33.4 million people living with HIV. An estimated 2.7 million were newly infected with the virus and two million died of AIDS the same year. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV. In 2008, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 67 per cent of HIV infections worldwide, 68 per cent of new HIV infections among adults and 91 per cent of new HIV infections among children. The region also accounted for 72 per cent of the world’s AIDS-related deaths in 2008.

According to the new UNAIDS report, HIV incidence has declined by nearly 25 per cent in East Asia and in South and South East Asia by 10 per cent in the same time period. In Eastern Europe, after a dramatic increase in new infections among injecting drug users, the epidemic has levelled off considerably. However, in some countries, there are signs that HIV incidence is rising again.

Meanwhile, the ILO and the ITUC have called for proactive steps to stem discrimination against workers that are HIV-positive.

In his message yesterday to mark the occasion, the Director- General of ILO, Mr. Juan Somavia, said the slogan: “I am living my rights. Stop AIDS, keep the promise” is a collective responsibility to respond to this call of World AIDS Day 2009.

He noted that out of over 33 million people that are living with HIV/AIDS, more than 90 per cent are adults in their productive and reproductive prime.

According to him: “Keeping the promise means enabling HIV-positive workers to remain on the job. Eliminating HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in the world of work upholds the dignity of work and of workers. Policies and strategies for prevention and treatment sustain the workforce: They must reach all workers, wherever they work, including in the informal and rural economy. And in sustaining the workforce, we sustain families, communities, societies and economies.”

He cautioned that the world must not be carried away by the availability of drugs, saying: “Yet, let us not forget that for every two persons who obtain treatment, there are five new infections and one of every two new infections is among 15 to 24-year old. Too many of these young people are unlikely to realise their potential.”

Somavia stressed that the world cannot relent on prevention and that prevention must be multi-dimensional and approached with long-term commitment, creativity and diversity.

He revealed that in June 2010, the International Labour Conference (ILC) will consider adopting a new labour standard in the form of a recommendation on HIV/AIDS and the world of work to reinforce its work.

On its part, the ITUC blamed the massive human suffering caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the failure to date to check and reverse its growth on lack of political will of governments.

It stated that the ITUC remains committed to action to combat HIV/AIDS discrimination in the workplace, to ensure a rights-oriented approach to the interventions, to advocate for strong privacy and confidentiality safeguards and to ensure equitable access to HIV/AIDS treatment.

It also expressed its concerns at the impact of the financial crisis on development and thus on combating HIV-AIDS.

(The Guardian, Nigeria)

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