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Nigeria: Access to Health Care for People Living with HIV and AIDS

by Chen Reis JD, MPH

August 2006

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The HIV pandemic is perhaps the greatest health and human rights issue of our time. Worldwide, an estimated 40 million people are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

With an estimated 3.6 million people with HIV/AIDS, Nigeria is home to 1 out of every 11 people with HIV/AIDS world-wide. The HIV prevalence among adults in Nigeria has increased from 1.8% in 1991 to an estimated 5.4% in 2003. Unofficial estimates range as high as 10%, which represents 4 to 6 million people infected.

Many people living with AIDS in Nigeria may face discriminatory behavior in the health sector. This study is the first population-based assessment of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) in the health sector of a country.

Stigma and discrimination are critical factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Discrimination undermines efforts to provide effective prevention education, diagnosis, and treatment, thereby blocking efforts to reverse trends in the pandemic. It also robs people affected by this life-threatening illness of the fundamental respec tfor their dignity and their right to health.

Health care professionals face enormous challenges in addressing this problem in society and within the health sector. Nigerian health professionals are part of a society in the early phases of a comprehensive approach to prevention, treatment, and care of HIV and AIDS that often attaches stigma and moral judgment to HIV/AIDS. The prevalence, character of, and factors contributing to the discriminatory practices of Nigerian health care professionals towards PLWA are, however, largely undocumented.

To address this lack of knowledge, PHR, the Policy Project Nigeria, and the Center for the Right to Health (CRH), conducted two surveys. The first was a survey of a representative sample of health professionals in four sites in Nigeria, and the second, a convenience sample of people living with HIV/AIDS in those four states and in Lagos and Abuja.

These findings were supplemented by a survey of directors within the facilities where the health professiona lsurveys were conducted, and individual interviews with key informants including national and state policymakers, NGO representatives, and officers of international agencies.

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