Law News
Understanding the law protecting persons living with HIV, AIDS

IT is ignorance that fuels stigmatization of People Living With HIV, Aids (PLWHA), exposing them to ridicule, disgrace, verbal, physical and other forms of abuse in private and public settings.

Consequently, only a few people desire to know their serostatus while those who know their serostatus are unwilling to disclose, thereby increasing the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS.

Education is the best vaccine for curing ignorance. In the instant case, this vaccine will:

Enlighten PLHIV and affected by AIDS on their basic human rights thereby eradicating self-stigmatization. It will empower them to demand for these rights using this Law as a tool.

Remind Lagosians of HIV/AID Law, thus improving attitudinal change towards PLHIV and affected by AIDS.  It will save them the consequences they will suffer for contravening the Law as Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

Assist in the attainment of the Lagos State Government’s desire to reduce the spread of HIV by encouraging the use of available care and support services. Reduce the calamitous impact of AIDS in every sphere of life within the State, making Lagos, safe for all, as the centre of excellence it is.

One of the ways of evaluating government’s stance on an issue is through laws and policies put in place to address it. By enacting this Law, Lagos State government exhibits commitment towards issues of HIV/AIDS and PLWHA. The next important step is implementation. To achieve this, we all have to play our parts. This inspired the production of this user-friendly version of the Law.

We have a veritable tool in our hands but the pertinent question is ‘are we going to use it’? It is hoped that this will serve as one of the educational materials to demystify HIV/AIDS related issues and break the culture of silence on stigma. As well as advance awareness of the Law as knowledge of Laws promotes better compliance and help in their engagement.

Highlights of the Law

The Law offers special Protection to PLWHA, guaranteeing their all round protection in private and public settings.  It protects people that are not living with HIV by penalizing endangerment to their lives through willful infection.

It protects health workers in all government health institutions by imposing on the state government the duty of providing them with universal safety tools to ensure safety in the performance of their duties. It provides for free distribution of anti-retroviral drugs to PLWHA from the Lagos State Anti-Retroviral Drugs Trust Fund. It provides that anyone including YOU could be a contributor to the Lagos State Anti-Retroviral Drugs Trust Fund.

It offers social safety nets to vulnerable and indigent people affected by AIDS. It compels the formulation of HIV/AIDS policy by all corporate organizations for the benefit of employees who are PLWHA. It establishes the Justice and Human Rights Watch Group under the control and management of LSACA to monitor the implementation of the Law.

It prohibits and penalizes various discriminatory acts meted out on PLWHA. It does not outlaw the collection of rent from tenants by landlords. It does not compel employers to employ a job-specific unqualified employee. It does not mandate employers to employ where no vacancy exists. It applies to everyone living in Lagos State. It is specifically a Lagos State Law

Who is protected under the Law? 

The Law is non discriminatory in its protection of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and others.

Section 1 provides for the protection of everyone living with HIV and affected by AIDS in Lagos State. It does not matter whether the person is a man, woman, adult, child, pregnant, married, single, rich, poor etc. This special protection of PLWHA is in line with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, which assures every Nigerian the following rights: Right to life, Right to dignity, liberty, fair hearing, private and family life, Freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Freedom of expression, Right to peaceful assembly and association; Right to freedom of movement, Right to non discrimination and Right to own property

What rights do PLWHA have?

The law assures PLWHA of some rights. When someone has rights, another has a corresponding duty towards the person who has the rights. This means that the one who has the rights can boldly demand for them.

These rights are- Access to healthcare institutions .. This means that PLWHIV cannot be turned back in healthcare institutions because of their status. This is particularly so in the public health institutions where the health care workers are assured of universal safety tools so that they will not be exposed to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. On getting to the health institutions, PLHIV are assured of- (1) Medical care including (a) Life prolonging drugs (b) Treatments (c) Therapies (2) Voluntary Counseling in all Public Health Institutions and  (3) HIV anti-body tests in all Public health institutions.

Right to accommodation. Landlords can no longer refuse PLWHA as tenants simply because of HIV/AIDS status.  Right to admission in schools. Qualified candidates are entitled to be admitted into educational institutions regardless of their status.

Right to non discrimination in religious/social/political gathering 

PLWHA like all other Nigerians are entitled to exercise freedom of expression, religion, peaceful assembly and association. They are to be accepted and not to be treated with prejudice in religious, social and political gatherings.

Rights at the Workplace. PLWHA are entitled to means of livelihood. Thus they are guaranteed rights at work places. These are: Right to gainful employment in private/public establishment, if qualified and vacancy exists; freedom from unlawful termination of employment because of HIV status; non discrimination/segregation in workplace as well as Right to non compulsory HIV test.

   Right to homes by orphans, vulnerable and abandoned children of deceased HIV patients. Government pledges to establish home for orphans, vulnerable, and abandoned children of deceased HIV patients

Right to Social security, care and support for children who head homes, and vulnerable/indigent widows/widowers/grandparents affected by HIV/AIDS

Right to Mortuary and decent burial of anyone who dies from complications arising from HIV/AIDS.Right to sue and be sued in a court of competent jurisdiction for stigmatization/discrimination. PLWHA can sue.

Okeke, a Lagos based lawyer is the director general of Centre for Mmadu (C4M).

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