By working to guarantee Nigerians with HIV/AIDS the right to employment, Wole Daini is removing a critical obstacle to the prevention and treatment of the disease.
The New Idea
Wole believes that despite the enormous resources being poured into HIV/AIDS interventions in Nigeria, the epidemic will not be stemmed nor treatment become accessible until people with the disease are guaranteed their right to employment. Few people with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria can afford the necessary healthcare, so in a society that still strongly discriminates against them, there is no incentive to reveal an HIV-positive status or even be tested for the disease in the first place. Many activists have focused either on the greed of pharmaceutical companies unwilling to give drugs to Africa or on the need for development aid to address the problem. But Wole understands that companies need to maintain their profit margin and that development aid would be less relevant if the right to employment was secured.
Although even employed Nigerians often cannot afford full-cost antiretroviral drugs, Wole argues that for people with the disease to afford any healthcare, they must be employed. Yet discrimination puts thousands of Nigerians with HIV/AIDS out of work and causes thousands more either to keep their status a secret or to avoid being tested, thus sustaining the epidemic. Wole is reducing workplace discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS through targeted education and advocacy among all players in the labor market. He is working with Nigerian political bodies to pass and enforce antidiscrimination legislation, while also advocating among employers and trade unions to develop and enforce workplace antidiscrimination policies.
Despite a successful information campaign by both citizen sector organizations and the government to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS throughout Nigeria, the disease continues to proliferate, creating difficulty not only for individuals and their families but also for the economy. Nearly 6 percent of the adult population–almost four million Nigerians in total–are infected. Official estimates suggest that across Africa, economic growth has fallen 4 percent as a result of productivity lost to the disease. The majority of HIV-positive Nigerians belong to the working class. Over 80 percent of these people have no decent means of livelihood, and the other 20 percent risk losing their jobs if employers discover their status. Many workers, therefore, do not get tested to avoid being fired. Others find recourse for lost livelihoods in sex work, thus spreading the disease even further.
Although intervention efforts are common, little attention has been paid to issues of discrimination against people living with the disease, particularly in the labor market. In counseling AIDS patients, Wole discovered that most were unwilling to be open about their disease because of a lack of legal protection in their employment. Antidiscrimination labor laws exist but are so porous that employers who discriminate are rarely prosecuted. In addition, judges themselves have prejudices against people with the disease and often uphold discriminatory treatment. In one high-profile case, a judge would not let the defendant into his courtroom for fear of the virus. The litigation that has occurred has been ineffective, and many patients prefer not to sue anyway to avoid the publicity of such cases. Other efforts to address workplace discrimination have used interventions like microcredit and vocational training for those who have lost their jobs. No one has confronted the unfavorable labor market in its entirety as a strategy for stopping the spread of HIV and ensuring treatment for people with the disease.
Wole has identified three critical pressure points–employers, trade unions, and state and national legislatures–on which he brings to bear the tools of education, training, and advocacy. Though his targeted groups are active throughout the country, he has strategically chosen to begin in Abuja, where the federal government sits, and Lagos, where 80 percent of the nation's private sector activities take place.
To address the problem of discrimination nationally, Wole understands that an enforceable legal reference point must serve as an anchor for other efforts. In collaboration with the National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, lawyers, and legislative writers, Wole is developing a bill for review by lawmakers. He and the National Network will then lobby for and monitor its passage and enforcement in conjunction with existing antidiscrimination law. Rather than focusing narrowly on passing new laws, however, he is working with state governments and the National Assembly to expand existing law and interpret it properly. He believes that the integration of rights enforcement into all policy is more effective than one main antidiscrimination law coming from the National Assembly. He has enlisted trade unions and the National Labour Congress to help engineer a process for reviewing policies more generally for proper HIV/AIDS labor antidiscrimination measures. To ensure enforcement of the laws, his organization also provides legal aid referral assistance when people with HIV/AIDS believe that their rights have been violated.
Parallel to his legislative work, Wole targets employers and employees as the players who ultimately must be accountable to each other on the issue of HIV/AIDS in the workplace. He shares information directly with employers through publications and trainings to encourage the development and enforcement of workplace policies. He has identified, however, a more effective and wider-reaching advocacy tool–the trade unions. He holds seminars and workshops with the leaders of registered unions and invites them to get involved in lobbying employers and lawmakers. He encourages and assists them in integrating into their agendas the issue of HIV/AIDS-friendly employment programs. Central to all his efforts with these various target groups is education. Through talks and printed materials, Wole ensures that all stakeholders are equipped with best practices in labor law as it affects people living with HIV/AIDS. He intends to educate 1,000 people this year as trainers who will carry on the idea. In two years, he expects to have reached 10,000 people and 11 million by year three. Additionally, he recognizes the media as a critical component in any public education strategy, and he is working to establish regular communication with two mainstream newspapers to disseminate information.
The son of a Methodist minister, Wole grew up traveling around the country with his father and learned the importance of defending people who cannot defend themselves. This influence was later strengthened by his expulsion from medical school when he stood up for his peers who could not afford the unjustified, rising student fees. As a minister's son, his own education was paid for, but because of his leadership, the student body chose him to represent their interests. He and four other students met with school authorities, who subsequently expelled them without just cause. The students took their case to court, where the decision was reversed and they were reinstated. In the end, Wole and his peers managed to negotiate a marginal decrease in the fees, and Wole committed himself to responding to other societal inequalities.
Later, Wole did attend medical school because of a norm in Nigeria that held that the brightest students study medicine. However, he quickly saw it as a way to combine the provision of health services with the defense of human rights. He always emphasizes the need to see medical practice as a humanitarian service, not just a lucrative vocation. Perhaps more than many other areas of healthcare, the HIV/AIDS epidemic presents numerous challenges in the area of human rights. Working for the Nigeria AIDS Alliance and the Civil Society Consultative Group on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, Wole has become intimately familiar with such challenges–the most common and powerful of which is the inability to secure and maintain a job given discriminatory labor practices. Recognizing that the poor socioeconomic status of people with HIV often results in AIDS and early death for the individual and the spread of the disease in society, Wole set out to guarantee the right to employment for HIV-positive people.