Nigerians living with HIV discuss stigmatisation in hospitals

Karishi General hospital
A hospital used to illustrate the story

People Living With HIV (PLWHIV) said they experience discrimination from doctors and health workers at health facilities in Nigeria.

They also decried the level of stigmatisation that they encounter on a regular basis.

The South-West Zonal Coordinator for the Network of People Living With HIV in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), Abiola Ajani, said Nigerian doctors and health workers have devised ways to discriminate against PLWHIV.

She said the stigma and discrimination in health facilities affect PLWHIV adherence to treatment.

“Stigmatisation is more from the health workers who have been saddled with the responsibility to manage these people.

“Sometimes I wonder, if we have this level of stigmatisation in Lagos, then what is happening in the rural areas or states.

“For example, about six months ago, a pregnant woman who is one of us went for antenatal care and a doctor who had been checking other patients without hand sanitiser claimed she could not palpate the pregnant woman because she (the Doctor) did not have a hand sanitiser.

“The patient felt bad because the same doctor was attending to other patients without hand sanitiser.

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“HIV can’t be contracted by touching someone. So if a doctor can act like this, what do you think others will do?

“If a doctor wants to use hand sanitiser, he should use it for everyone, not only for people that have HIV,” she said.

She said health workers have also taken to calling colleagues names of diseases while at work.

She called for training and retraining of professional health workers on approaches towards clients and use of some word codes that can be demeaning to the patients.

“Just two weeks ago, I visited a heart to heart centre and a nurse was calling another colleague who works with PLWHIV ‘HIV, HIV.’ That mode of communication is stigmatisation, especially as patients were also there,” she said.

Code naming PLWHIV is against the HIV/AIDS (Anti Discrimination) Act.

In November 2014, Nigeria enacted the HIV/AIDS (Anti Discrimination) Act.

The ACT makes provision for the prevention of HIV/AIDS-based discrimination and to protect the fundamental human rights and dignity of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

The ACT frowns at the ill-treatment of PLHIV in health facilities, religious places, schools, job denial, denial of access to communal places amongst others.

Part 1 (5) (1) of the ACT states that; No individual, community, institution and employer or employee shall discriminate, directly or indirectly, against any person in the society on the basis of the person’s HIV status or perception of same in employment, delivery of services and other benefits.

But, despite the existence of this law, PLHIV still faces discrimination on a regular basis in Nigeria.

Ms Ajani said such an approach can affect the adherence to treatment and drugs by PLWHIV thereby hindering the effort to eliminating the disease prevalence.

Stigmatisation, a thing of the past in Nasarawa State

The Nasarawa state coordinator for Network of People Living With HIV in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), Philip Lokoko, said since the passage of the Anti-Discrimination law, stigma had become a thing of the past in the state.

The bill prohibiting discrimination against People Living with HIV/AIDS in the state was passed into law in 2013.

He said stigmatisation against PLWHIV is a crime that is taken seriously by the state government.

Living with the virus for 15 years now, Mr Lokoko, a resident of Sabon Pegi Shabu, Lafia, said HIV is not a death sentence but ignorance of one’s status is a death sentence.

“Self-acceptance is the first step to overcoming stigma. Don’t push blames to other people but accept it as an act of God. Then you will be able to live a normal life because people will no longer be pointing fingers at you.

“People have accepted us the way we are, my wife and I are living a normal life despite our status,” he said.

Mr Lokoko also said the attitude of health workers towards PLWHIV in the state is commendable.

“Health workers in the hospitals I have visited so far are good. They have never discriminated against me or my wife or spoke to us rudely.

“They attend to us at the right time, give us what we came for, for free. No charges at all,” he said

Victor Aroh, a 17-year-old living with the virus, said he is yet to face any major issue of stigmatisation.

Aroh, a resident of Sabon Pegi Shabu, Lafia, said it had been an enlightening period for him.

“Stigma is not a worrying situation in this state, at least that I know of. After knowing of my status and how I got to know my status so I accepted there was a reason for that.

“In the support group, you find out you are not the only person living with this virus. I also got to know that It is not the end of the world. I found the means to live my life positively and happily,” he said.

Aroh got to know about his status at age 12, following a continuous illness.

He said he was infected by his neighbour.

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