By James Apeh
In Nigeria more than 5 million women give birth yearly. One out of every twenty is HIV positive. The chance of an infected woman giving the infection to her child is about 30%. In Nigeria about 60,000 children are born HIV positive every year. Most will not survive beyond their 5th birthday. Coupled with this is the high rate of ignorance about mother-to-child transmission of HIV and its prevention in the country. The Benue state government recently passed the people living with HIV AIDs (Anti Stigmatization and Discrimination) law 2014. The law provides for the protection of the rights of people living with HIV AIDs. How has the law made provisions for the protection of women children and the unborn child? Specifically what obligation has the law created on the government in the provision of healthcare and education to this vulnerable group i.e. women and children and the unborn child in the society.
Section 9 of the law provides:
The following persons shall be subjected to routine HIV/AIDs testing for purposes of prevention of HIV/AIDs transmission
(a) Pregnant women
The implication of this section is that an obligation has been created on the government of Benue state to provide HIV testing service for pregnant women in the state.
Section (10) provides:
A health unit providing common health care services, ante-natal care family planning service or special or general treatment, shall offer HIV/AIDs testing services to persons
The implication of this section is that every government health unit offering common health care service, antenatal care services, family planning services or special or general treatment should be able to also offer HIV/AIDs testing services, thus the government is obligated to provide necessary facilities or equipments to these health units to offer HIV/AIDs testing services.
Section 11(i) provides:
A pregnant woman who is tested and found to be HIV/AIDs positive under section 4 shall be entitled to appropriate treatment, care and support and routine medication to prevent HIV to the child.
By this provision, a HIV positive pregnant woman is entitled to free treatment and medication to prevent the transmission of HIV to the unborn child. Also the child in this case is entitled to be protected form being infected from HIV AIDs where possible.
Section 11(ii) provides:
A child who is of an HIV positive mother shall be given immediate appropriate treatment care, support and routine medication.
The implication of this provision is that it is the right of a child of a HIV positive mother to be given appropriate treatment and support. The government is by this obligated to provide necessary health care to a child of a HIV positive mother.
Section 12(i) provides:
A child who is born of a mother who is HIV positive shall be tested for HIV as soon as it is medically practicable.
The implication here is that the government is obligated to provide HIV testing service to a child born of a HIV mother.
Section 12(ii) provides:
A child who tests positive to HIV under subsection (i) of this section shall be given HIV/AIDs treatment, care and support
This provision creates an obligation on the government to provide health care services to a child found to test positive to HIV.
Section 35(i) provides that
Government shall provide the necessary support systems and structures for people living with HIV/AIDs to seek redress
This provision obligates the Benue state government to provide among other facilities legal representation for PLWHA to seek redress for violation of their rights created by this law.
Section 35(ii) (e) provides
The government shall devise measures to
(e) Develop and promote awareness, rights and duties imposed on persons under this law.
The government by this provision is obligated to educate the populace including pregnant women on their rights under this law.
Section 34 provides
Any person who has been stigmatized and discriminated against may sue for damages and other civil claims or remedy in the court of competent jurisdiction or high court of the state
The law by the above provision confers on the state high court with the jurisdiction to try cases where the rights of pregnant women and children have been violated.
In conclusion the law has addressed some important issues in its effort to protect the mother and child from HIV transmission. It has provided a legal frame work for the compulsory testing of pregnant women, provided a legal framework for the use of HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT) services especially within maternal health care units, provided a legal framework for HIV positive women to be properly counseled, Provided a legal framework for the testing of children of HIV positive mother and the care of such children. The law has also provided a framework for the education of mothers and the general population about prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and it has provided a legal framework for the provision of legal and healthcare services for PLWHIV including HIV positive mothers.
James Tor Apeh is a Legal Officer with Lawyers Alert