A Lagos State High Court has awarded the sum of N7 million in favour of an HIV-infected woman, Mrs. Georgina Ahamefule, against a Lagos-based hospital, Imperial Medical Centre (IMC) and its Chief Medical Director, Dr. Alex Molokwu.
The judgment is coming 12 years after it was first filed on behalf of Mrs. Ahamefule by a non-governmental organisation, Social Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC).
SERAC had filed the suit on the 14th of July, 2000 to contest the termination of Georgina Ahamefule’s employment as an auxiliary nurse by the Imperial Medical Centre and Dr. Molokwu on the grounds of her HIV status.
In her Statement of Claim, the applicant said she joined the IMC as an auxiliary nurse in 1989. She got pregnant in 1995 and developed boils on her skin. She consequently sought the medical attention of her employer Dr. Molokwu, who carried out medical examinations and diagnostic tests without disclosing the nature of the tests to her.
The doctor further referred Georgina for further testing to one Dr. Okanny at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital with a note in a sealed envelope.
Dr. Okanny himself carried out the tests without disclosing the nature of same to Mrs Ahamefule. She was however subsequently informed of her status while the IMC headed by Dr. Molokwu, promptly terminated her appointment.
She said she lost her pregnancy to miscarriage as a result of the trauma she underwent
The applicant claimed that she was never given any form of counseling before and after the tests and diagnoses were carried out on her as required by medical ethics.
This prompted her to seek the help of SERAC which filed the case on her behalf asking for a cumulative damages of N8 million for violation of her rights.
In the novel judgment, Justice Yetunde Idowu held “I hereby declare as follows: that the purported termination of the Plaintiff’s employment is illegal, unlawful and actuated by malice and extreme bad faith.
“That the Defendants’ action in denying the plaintiff medical care on grounds of her HIV status constitutes a flagrant violation of the right to health guaranteed under Article 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap. 10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights”
The judge then went ahead to award Mrs Ahamefule N5 million damages for wrongful termination and N2 million damages as compensation for unlawful conduct of HIV testing without the plaintiff’s informed consent and for the defendants’ negligence”.
This happens to be the first case on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to be judicially determined in Nigeria.