OrderPaperToday–  Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu) has advised people living with HIV/AIDS to own and disclose their status in order to end the stigma associated with it.

According to him, once people see they are living a healthy life, such stigmatisation or discrimination will stop.

He made this known in a chat with OrderPaperNG while reacting to continued discrimination and stigmatisation against HIV carriers despite the enactment of a law against it.

He said, “What we can do is to change our attitude. That is why we are telling people and encouraging people living with HIV to come out in the open. Hiding does not help the matter, it worsens it. Most of them do not die of the ailment, they die of stigmatisation.

“When you achieve viral suppression, you can live your life. The chairman of the people living with HIV has managed it for 10 years with children and you see him go by and you do not believe it but he has achieved viral load suppression and he is procreating. If he did not come out, you would not have believed. It is an attitude thing. If we do not change this attitude, it will worsen and linger.”

On cases where people lose their jobs due to stigmatisation, he told the affected persons to submit a petition to the National Assembly which he promised to follow through.

“In the National Assembly, we have the Ethics and Privileges Committee and they handle such issues. If you have any problem that someone is trying to discriminate against you, write a petition and come to the National Assembly.

“I will want to get such issues and meet such scenarios where people are employed and when their status have been discovered, then people discriminate them. These are the kinds of battles I like to fight. I will rather go and see that person who is in that office and we will make life unbearable for him and make him or her to lose their job”, the Enugu senator said.

There are 1.9 million persons living with the virus, according to National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA).

This figure was refuted by Senator Chimaroke Nnamani when a motion was moved by Utazi commemorating the World’s AIDS day.

He argued that the number is a lot lesser than the actual figure, given that a lot of people living with the viral disease are not opening up about it.

Supporting this, Utazi said, “When they are hiding and not forthcoming, you feel like the epidemic is no longer there and that is not the truth. You see the people living with the virus, they cannot go to nearby centres and go as far back as South West like Ibadan, while people at Ibadan go to Enugu or Abuja.

“They are doing so so that people will not know them and stigmatise them. This is the issue. They refuse to identify their names even when they go there, they give you false names because they do not want to be identified. The society must change our attitude.”

Utazi, who doubles as the chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, also decried inadequate funding of the fight against HIV/AIDS by the federal government.

He said, “The Nigerian government is not doing enough; they are leaving the whole funding of the exercise of stemming this epidemic to foreign donors. It is not done. It is not good for the national security of the country that you leave the health of your populace to foreigners. So it should be in the national interest of Nigerians.

“Number one priority is health, second is education, these two go hand in hand.
The tendency for the governments, both at federal and state levels, even at local, is to look for projects that you can see and they will just talk about legacy projects that at the end of the day when I have done my four years, you will now come back and say what has this man done.

“Without good health, you can’t even you have good roads or good markets, they are important but first you have to be healthy because once you are healthy, you will know it. The primary thing anyone thinks about is will I leave this bed? You won’t even remember university but when you start getting healthy, you will remember you have missed exams but how you will get well.”

Utazi disclosed that the he will sponsor an amendment to the National Health Act and seek specific allocation to NACA from the 1% Consolidated Revenue Fund for Basic Health Care Provision Fund.

He said, “From me here as a lawyer, we are looking at the National Health Act, 2014 holistically on how we can tinker with that law and see how we can make amendments that will bring us in tune with what we want for ourselves.

For sometime, we have been having the 1% consolidated revenue fund for the basic health care provision fund that will give 50% of that amount to nhis, 45% to primary health care and communicable diseases and 5% to accidents and emergencies.

“That law we are looking at it. In all these things, we have not factored primarily NACA. I will be proposing some amendments in a few days if we have the time. If we don’t, early January, I will come with an amendment to include specifically this one percent that we are having that we will mention that this 5%… if we are cutting out of NHIS, we say 5% or 2% goes to NACA. That’s part of the ways we are going to get the needed funds for the fight against AIDS.”

He also tasked the private sector to help with funding as part of their corporate social responsibility.

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