Letter to editor

That Attack on HIV/AIDS Victim Risks Public Health

22 October 2006 at 06:43 | 675 views

By Hassan-Morlai, London

If reports from the indigenous media in Sierra Leone are anything to go by relating to an alleged assault on a HIV/AIDS victim, then there are good reasons for public concern. This may well be a one-off or isolated incident. That notwithstanding, an occurrence with the propensity for producing unintended consequences should as well be nipped on the bud, giving it no room to flourish.

Let us start from the premises that the alleged reported attack on Ms Rashidatu Bangura of Kissy Dockyard and the eviction from her property indeed occurred; and all of this is on the basis of her HIV/AID condition. By “her property”, one means Ms Bangura’s interest in the said property evidenced by way of either a lease, tenancy, licence or other form of agreement with her landlord. During the currency of such agreement, without prejudice to any rights of the superior titleholder or remedies for breach of the covenants of such agreement, Ms Bangura is entitled, inter alia, to quiet enjoyment and exclusive possession of her interest in the property.

Quite rightly, property right is and could not be the only critical bone of contention here. A common theme runs through the public protestations of Mr Gabriel Madiye (Executive Directive of the Shepherd’s Hospice Sierra Leone) and Ms Agnes Pratt (Secretary General of the HIV/AIDS Reporters Association). Why should a HIV/AIDS victim not be a beneficiary of the protection of the laws of Sierra Leone? A potential criminal offence, like the alleged attack on Ms Rashidatu Bangura, should warrant reports to be laid before the police or magistrates’ court clerk against the alleged offender (if known) by the victim or representative groups on her behalf.

Complaisance breeds a culture of indifference, even a culture of impunity pitying vulnerable classes of individuals who cannot afford the cost of hiring a lawyer to enforce their rights. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the public and prosecute offenders. Accordingly, it is only reasonable, even in the absence of a report by or on behalf of the victim, for the state’s law enforcement agencies to take the initiative to investigate this alleged attack with the aim of bringing the culprit to justice. This is especially so as this incident has received significant press coverage. The law enforcement agencies, including the police, should be seen to have the will and ability to enforce the laws of the land if they are to propitiate the trust and confidence of the public.

Consider the situation from this perspective - that the state’s law enforcement agencies do nothing. This might as well put off other HIV/AIDS victims from making their condition public on the basis that they are the victims of discrimination who do not benefit from the protection of the law. The ultimate sufferer in such circumstances will be the unsuspecting general public living with HIV/AIDS victims who dare not to identify themselves for fear of further attacks with no protection whatsoever. This clearly poses a public health risk. It is for these reasons that Ms Rashidatu Bangura and all HIV/AIDS should be supported and protected so that this, perhaps isolated incident, would not become a norm.