Barrister Dorcas Ogiamien is the National Coordinator of Fresh Life Care Foundation (FLCF) that is concerned providing legal aid to persons living with HIV/AIDS. In this interview she granted Forefront, she discusses the stigmatisation of HIV/AID patients and how legal aid can be used to fight it, amongst other issues.
Tell us about your foundation, the FreshLife Care Foundation (FLCF) and what you intend to achieve, especially among youths affected with HIV/AIDS. FLCF is a coalition of young lawyers and people focusing on protecting the social and sexual rights of adolescents and young people (AYP). It seeks to provide Legal Aide For AYPs living with and infected with HIV/AIDS against stigma and discrimination. For Youths affected with HIV AIDS, FLCF will enlighten and sensitize them on the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS and what constitutes stigma and discrimination, how such rights can be protected in the event it is infringed upon or when they are discriminated. When they are well informed, they become well equipped to help in the fight.
Tell us more on the legal side for youths living with HIV?
With the constitution which is the ground norm and the passing into law the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act (HAADA) in 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan that has helped further foster the cause of the fight against discrimination. By providing legal aid, the rights of youths living with HIV/AIDS and affected are protected from all forms of discrimination and stigma, whether in their places of work, School, worship and community, No one should be discriminated on the basis of their status via this institutions and persons.
How do you intend to fund the foundation to achieve these noble objectives since it is not profit-based organisation?
For now, our funding is mostly private and within, but with time, we intend to apply for grants from donor agencies and international bodies.
Do you think we have enough laws curtailing stigmatization?
For now, I will say yes. The constitution and the HAADA is there to sufficiently serve the course of justice. All that’s needed now is implementation and domestication in all states in the country.
What additional laws do you think should be proposed to strengthen the fight against HIV?
We don’t need additional laws, rather what we need now is a little reform and addition to the existing HAADA to cover other areas that hasn’t been covered. For example, they need to make it compulsory to disclose your status to your sexual partner or spouse to prevent the other from contracting it without knowing. It should be made a criminal offence and any form of contravention should attract harsh penalty.
Going by the claim in some quarters that HIV cure has been found, what does this portend to your foundation, if indeed that is found to be true?
If it is true, then, that will be a great one. But then FLCF is not limited to HIV/AIDS. It covers and focuses on the social and sexual rights of adolescents and young people. With the escalating rate of sexual and domestic violence against AYPs, justice needs to be served.
How can you describe the fight against HIV in the country? Has it yielded any positive result?
I Will say based on the records and research, there are positive results with the close in gap to access to treatment and information, though more needs to be done in rural communities. More sensitization campaign and access to treatment in their primary health facilities need to be pursued and embarked upon by stakeholders.
How can the Buhari’s Administration aid or support the fight Against HIV/AIDS and the attendant discrimination?
The Buhari’s Administration should get more involved and include in the budget to help finance the projects of access of treatment in rural communities, as well as provide them with skill acquisition training as a sustainable growth. In terms of combating stigma and discrimination, by getting more involved with NGOs and CBOs in the implementation of these laws and domestication of the HAADA in all states of the federation and made compulsory in the work and school policies. People out there need to know of the existence of the HAADA and know how real their rights can be protected without fear or favour.