A non-governmental organisation, Nigeria HIV Info has accused the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and its Director General, Prof. John Idoko of misrepresenting facts on same sex marriage by twisting the language of the law to achieve narrow interests.
Prof. Idoko, in a press release, had stated that:
“Nothing in the same sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013 refers to or prohibits programs targeted at Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support for people living with HIV or affected by AIDS in Nigeria. No provision of this law will deny anybody in Nigeria access to HIV treatment and other medical service“
“A perusal of the Same Sex Marriage Act 2013, makes clear that the provisions thereof do not have any negative effect on the HIV/ AIDS Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support Programs or any other such programs currently in operation in Nigeria’’
The coordinator of the organisation, Mr. Steve Aborisade, via the information portal www.nigeriahivinfo.com, responded to this by saying, “The proposed bill, for emphasis, goes beyond the banning of gay marriages… but what it actually does is to spell new crimes of homosexuality while criminalizing HIV/AIDS services to sexual minority.”
“To us, Prof. Idoko’s statement and NACA’s position represents the height of hypocrisy and insensitivity by an agency in charge of the national HIV/AIDS intervention of a country like Nigeria which bears the second largest global burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
“Even when the issue involved is as sensitive and touchy to majority of Nigerians and our government as it is, we had expected that NACA and Prof. Idoko could at least be guided in their response by prevailing facts on the situation of things which makes a mockery of their assertion and is a direct contrast to their advertised position.
“To say that a law which criminalizes an identified most at risk population and prescribes jail terms for those who work with them will not ‘deny anybody in Nigeria access to HIV treatment and other medical services’ is in the least, a disservice to the spirit of the efforts to curtail the impact of HIV/AIDS in our country. We were not expecting Prof. Idoko and NACA to deny the negative impact that criminalization and prejudice poses for individuals who already face all forms of blackmail, family rejection and brutality without a reprieve from our security apparatus. We expect that NACA should also know how difficult an effort it is to establish HIV initiatives for most-at-risk groups in the face public hostility.
“The law, for emphasis, goes beyond the banning of gay marriages (gay marriage is already illegal in our constitution), but what it actually does is to spell new crimes of homosexuality while criminalizing HIV/AIDS services to sexual minority.
“It is ironic that NACA and Prof. Idoko’s view is contrary to the views expressed by majority of service providers that the law seriously threatens the fragile health of community based HIV initiatives for the gay communities which are sprouting up across the cities of Nigeria. The general consensus, if NACA cares to listen is that the future of these projects is now in jeopardy.
“In case Prof. Idoko and NACA are experiencing a momentary amnesia about our HIV situation, here are facts to refresh their memory.
“Nigeria’s 2010 Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance (IBBS) survey for key at risk populations released in 2011 says over 50% gay partners have sex with female partners, while 40.8% have sex with girl friends. HIV/AIDS prevalence amongst this group is above 12% compared to the 4.1% in the general population. The intersection with the general population where about 50% have ongoing sexual interaction with the general population in the light of the high HIV prevalence in the group, to us, is enough ground to reappraise the kind of access they have to HIV services. We must be mindful that the gay population in Nigeria is speculated at about 15.4 million. This important intersection with the general population is something this law has ignored.
“Meanwhile, of Nigeria’s estimated population of 170 million less than 2.5 million have ever tested for HIV. Annual new infections are put at 323,000 adults and 57,000 children surpassing the number that the country can put on treatment. UNAIDS 2013 progress report says that between 2009 to 2012 Nigeria was only able to reduce infection rates in children from 65,000 in 2009 to 60,000 in 2012. Till date, less than 10 percent of Antenatal facilities offer PMTCT services while Nigeria’s PMTCT coverage shuts out over 70% of HIV positive mothers who needs them.
“While the UNAIDS 2013 progress report praised South Africa for halving new AIDS infection by 50%, it sadly noted that Nigeria records a 60% increase. Till date, the anti HIV/AIDS stigma bill which was first presented to the National Assembly sometimes in 2006 remained to be passed.
“With this background, and given our inability to treat our people who require HIV treatment, our failure to halt new infections in both children and adults and with our faltering ART regime, our take is that NACA must be seen as concerned that in the real sense we have a long way to go, while such journey calls for more openness and sensitivity to the real challenges bedeviling our programs. Our expectation is that NACA and its leadership will join the clamour by concerned civil society groups that there is a compelling need for our government to revisit several provisions of this law which are a direct threat to the modest gains of our public health intervention.”