Nigeria Perfects Strategies to Remove legal Barriers for Effective HIV/AIDS Response

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Shimsugh Chagbe

Nigeria has continued to demonstrate her commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS through various strategies, coordinated by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), to ensure that the populace have unhindered access to HIV/AIDS treatment services.

Mindful of her status as the country with the second highest burden of the pandemic only next to South Africa and the dwindling donor resources, the country has over the years made profound strides in her national HIV/AIDS and related diseases response.

It is noteworthy to state that the country, has made significant progress in upping the tally of knowledge and awareness of the populace about the disease. This is evident in the results of verified statistical data which shows significant number of people who were counselled, tested and received results as well as the nose-diving prevalence rate of the pandemic in preceding years.

For instance, indices credited to NACA Annual Report 2015 showed that 7,747,052 individuals were counselled, tested and received results in 2015, a significant raise compared with a figure of 6,716,482 in 2014.

Besides, the prevalence of the pandemic among women attending ANC dropped from 4.1 per cent in 2010 to 3.0 per cent in 2014. Moreover the number of health facilities offering HIV counselling and testing in 2015, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS in 2015 increased significantly. Also a total of 805,072 individuals were placed on treatment compared with 747,382 in 2014.

Nigeria has equally taken stock of structural impediments, which culminated to the enactment of the HIV/AIDS Anti -Discrimination Act, which was further simplified to enable people of low literacy status to understand its salient provision and enforce their rights when trampled upon.

Currently, the need to expand pre-prophelixes among sera-discordant couples, is receiving attention as research is ongoing in three centres to consider the feasibility of adopting it as a treatment regimen on the general population after successful clinical trials.

However, evidences indicate that there are some drawbacks to the successes of the national response. One of such is the legal environment, which is cited by some experts as a significant concern to the successful implementation HIV/AIDS, programme, especially at the programmatic level.

In order to address the gaps, NACA, in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme, conducted a Legal Environment Assessment for HIV/AIDS Response in Nigeria. This was done with the aim of strengthening the programmatic loopholes to address the problems of key populations.

The document stated, inter alia: “Partly responsible for higher rates of infection among key population is the programming approach which is not often driven by respect for the rights of key populations and other vulnerable groups. At the centre of any meaningful right-based programmes are laws and policies that can guarantee respect for human rights and access to services delivered in a dignifying manner. Achieving this can only be possible if the legal and policy environment of the country is clearly understood with gaps identified and addressed hence this assessment.”

Apart from the general populations, the assessment underscored the need of the legal assessment to identify important legal and human right issues affecting those at higher risk of HIV infection which include female sex workers, injecting drug users among others. It highlighted the strategic role the law could play; proscriptive role, protective role and instrumental role.

The assessment drew its inputs from a coalition of stakeholders from the human rights institutions, people living with AIDS, women groups and existing laws, according to its authors, revealed a wide range of laws and policies with implications for HIV/AIDS.

The assessment made believed that for concrete progress to be made in ensuring that people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS enjoy their fundamental human rights, funding for HIV/AIDS by States Agencies for the Control of AIDS (SACAs) should be backed by laws in the respective states. Other recommendations include: training and retraining of health care providers both in public and private facilities to enhance quality and friendly service provisions; sensitisation, community mobilisation for popularisation of the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act and the States level corresponding laws including interpretation of the laws in local languages; sensititisation of the Police, National Assembly, Key Populations and members of the public on the provisions and implications of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibitions) Act.

Following findings and recommendations of the legal assessment document, NACA coordinated a National Action Planning Consultative Meeting on Removing Legal Barriers for Effective HIV and AIDS Response in Nigeria on 22 and 23 September 2016.

The two-day meeting brought different stakeholders across the country as well as other African regions, including the UNDP Regional Office, Ethiopia and Edna sante, a Non-Governmental Organisation, based in Dakar Senegal, (a sub-recipient of Global Fund Africa Regional Grant aimed at removing the barrier with the goal of strengthening the legal and policy environment to reduce the impact of HIV and Tuberculosis on key populations in Africa).

The Director General, NACA, Dr. Sani Aliyu, represented by the Director, Programme Coordination, Dr. Akudo Ikpaeazu, gave the background development leading to the meeting. She charged participants to explore the opportunity to produce a plan of action that will give teeth to the recommendations to push for a positive legal and policy environment for removing barriers to build on gains achieved by Nigeria in the fight to end the pandemic as projected.

The M&E Specialist, RSCA, UNDP office, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mr. David Owolabi, who represented the global body, stated the importance of the meeting, saying it was a regional plan which aims to strengthen all other packages of HIV response, including access to justice, among others.

Programme Manager, ENDA Sante, Senegal, Nguissali Turpin and other representatives from UNAIIDS, Centre for Disease Control (CDC) who also represented the United States Government gave their goodwill messages, highlighting the importance of the meeting and its expected positive impact on people living with HIV/AIDS in the country and the African region.

.Chagbe writes from Abuja