About three decades ago, HIV/AIDS used to be one of the most dreaded illnesses all over the world, but the story has changed now. Thanks to the advancement in the field of science, medicine and technology. HIV infection spread like wild fire and it was destructive. There was not much knowledge about preventive measures that should be adopted to control the spread, coupled with the stigma and discrimination.
Although it is scientifically proved that HIV is not contacted through casual contact such as hugging, shaking of hands, touching, being close to a person with HIV/AIDS, sharing of clothes, dishes, toilet seats, eating together, but stigma and discrimination were strife. There was high rate of stigma and discrimination due to inadequate information and awareness about how HIV is contacted.
The increasing rate of stigma and discrimination prompted Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Human Rights Organisations (HROs) to agitate and advocate for a legislative framework that would prohibit all forms of discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The efforts of these organizations paid off when eventually the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act 2014 was passed to law. Presently, many States in Nigeria have enacted their HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) laws.
The HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act/Laws were enacted to put an end to all forms of discrimination against PLWHA. Section 1 (a) of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act 2014 states: “The purpose of the Act is to protect the rights and dignity of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS by eliminating all forms of discrimination based on HIV status.”
HIV Discrimination at Workplace
Although increased awareness has helped to whittle down the rate of HIV discrimination, it still has a huge socio-economic impact on the society. In the world of work, PLWHA are still discriminated against on the basis of their HIV status. HIV discrimination at workplace takes various forms. The following are acts amounting to HIV discrimination at workplace:
- Requirement of HIV test as a precondition to an offer of employment.
- Refusal to employ a person on the grounds of his/her HIV status.
- Denying PLWHA access to medication.
- Posting PLWHA to places where they cannot access treatment, medication and facilities.
- Termination of employment on the basis of real or perceived HIV status.
- Ostracizing staff living with HIV/AIDS from other staff.
- Preventing staff living with HIV/AIDS from using organisations’ public facilities, library and toilets.
Many employers who engage in acts amounting to HIV discrimination may not be aware of the consequences of their actions. However, ignorance of the law, they say, is not an excuse. Since the enactment of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act 2014, some employers of labour who engaged in one form of HIV discrimination or the other, have been prosecuted and made to pay damages to their affected staff for violating their rights and dignity, as guaranteed under the Constitution and under the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act 2014. An example is Mr. X case, who was job unlawfully terminated due to his HIV status, Lawyers Alert helped him get justice, read story here
The government’s efforts aimed at eliminating all forms of HIV discrimination will not yield the desired results if employers of labour are not enlightened on the need to comply with the provisions of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) legislation. There is need to create constant awareness on the obligation of employers to comply with the provisions of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) legislation. The more awareness we create, the faster the progress we will make in our collective efforts aimed at eliminating HIV discrimination at workplace. The contributions of CSOs, NGOs, HROs, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and other relevant government agencies are required in this regard.
Enforcement of HIV LegislationAwareness creation alone is not enough to eliminate all forms of HIV discrimination at workplace in Nigeria. Employers of labour found violating the provisions of the provisions of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) legislation must be sanctioned, as stipulated in the legislation, to serve as deterrent to others.
In view of the foregoing, employees/workers who have been discriminated against on the basis of their HIV status should come out to report. The era of keeping silent in the face of violation has passed. To eliminate all forms of HIV discrimination at workplace in the society, victims of HIV discrimination at workplace must report violations. Where reports are made and violations are established, employers of labour who violate the provisions of the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) legislation should be made to face the wrath of the law either by instituting criminal or civil action against them in the court of law.
Lawyers Alert is committed to protecting the rights and dignity of PLWHA through advocacy, counselling and provision of free legal services. With the kind contributions and collaboration of all and sundry, we can eliminate all forms of HIV discrimination at workplace, and the society will be the better for it.
Written By: Ayomide Joshua