By Izunna Okafor, Awka
Residents of Anambra State have been advised to avoid stigmatizing and discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS, as doing such amounts to crime punishable by the law.
The Executive Director of the Anambra State AIDS Control Agency (ANSACA), Mr. Johnbosco Ementa gave the advice on Monday, during a community dialogue between the Agency, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWAN), and the leadership of the Amawbia Town Union (A.T.U.), as well as other relevant stakeholders in the State.
The event, which held at the Amawbia Town Hall, Amawbia, Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State was attended by the leaders of the various religious institutions in the community, as well as the youths and women organisations. Representatives of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Nigerian Correctional Service (NSC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Association of Positive Youths in Nigeria (APYIN), and the Media were also present at the event.
Addressing the participants, the ANSACA ED, Mr. Ementa, said the aim of the dialogue was to engage and interact with the stakeholders in the community about the myths and the facts about HIV/AIDS, and also sensitize them against discrimination and stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS.
He also sensitized the people on HIV/AIDS, explaining how one can contact it, how to go about it when contacted, as well as how to treat it to a suppression level, such that it can no longer be transmittable.
Mr. Ementa further highlighted the various recent advancements and innovations in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, such as the invention of HIV Self Test (HIVST) kits, which an individual can use to personally test himself or herself in their comfort zones and see their result.
While warning against subjecting an individual to a compulsory HIV test and publicly disclosing a person’s HIV status as a pre-condition for wedding, employment or other such services, offers, and opportunities; the ANSACA Boss further exposed the participants to the various laws that protect the rights of the people living with HIV, warning that anybody or organisation found wanting or defaulting any of the laws, will be legally dealt with.
According to him, these laws, which include the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act of 2014, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015, and others, also stipulate various degrees of punishments (which could come in form of fine, imprisonment, or both) for anybody or organisation that defaults any of the provisions contained therein.
While calling for full compliance to the relevant HIV/AIDS-related laws, Mr. Ementa further advised the stakeholders to take the message down to the grassroots and sensitize their members; even as he reassured them of the Agency’s availability and readiness to assist them and to respond to all HIV/AIDS-related issues of concern at any point in time.
These, he said, are aimed towards achieving Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s vision of making Anambra a liveable and prosperous homeland, as well as achieving the goal of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to end HIV/AIDS by 2030. He further gave out the Agency’s control room number (09060486600) and the toll-free number of the National Agency for Control of AIDS, NACA (6222), through which one can contact the Agency for intervention and enquiries.
Ementa also noted that the community dialogue is continuous, as they will also visit other communities in different parts of the State.
In a vote of thanks, the President-General of the Amawbia Town Union, Engr. Godwin Aronu appreciated ANSACA and other member organizations of the State Gender and Human Rights Response team for the sensitization, which, he said, had enlightened and exposed them to the various things they did not know about HIV/AIDS, even as he also assured to water down the message to his people.
The well-attended event also featured questions and answers session on HIV/AIDS; while the representatives of the various participating groups and stakeholders also gave their remarks on diverse issues revolving around the pandemic.