AIDS is devastating the continent of Africa. 17 million men and women have already died and at least 25 million may follow. According to UNAIDS, there are 3.4 million new infections in Africa each year and 2.3 million deaths. Of the nearly 30 million HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 58% are women and girls. Nigeria's infection rate went from 1.8% to 5.8% between 1991 and 2001, one of the fastest growing infection rates in West Africa. More than 3.5 million Nigerians are now infected and an estimated 1 million children have been left orphaned. The rapid spread in Nigeria is fed by poverty, untreated STDs, lack of condom use, and polygamy.
Yinka Jegede, one of Nigeria's most visible HIV/AIDS activists, has helped change attitudes single-handedly by reshaping the image of the disease through her use of the media and her organizational skill.
At the age of 19, Yinka, then a nursing student, was diagnosed with HIV. She had contracted the disease through unsanitary conditions in a dental clinic. Family and friends disowned her. The nursing school administrators restricted her activities. Fellow students shunned her, and the principal tried to expel her. Despite the incidence of AIDS in Nigeria, a strong stigma is still attached to those with the infection, but Yinka refused to be cast out:
She held on to her goals, demanded changes, and completed her nursing degree. At that point, Yinka decided to fight for the rights of those infected with and living with HIV/AIDS by joining with a small group of activists to establish the AIDS Alliance of Nigeria, one of the first HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations in Nigeria.
Teaching about the disease and advocating for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, Yinka has lobbied government for more action to stop the spread of the virus. As a member of Nigeria's National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS, she has been active in the implementation of HIV prevention policies. She toured several Nigerian states to develop an action plan for addressing the needs of people infected with HIV/AIDS. She has also volunteered with several international agencies, including UNICEF, in designing their HIV programs. Yinka's work with the Civil Society Consultative Group on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and other organizations has contributed to the adoption of the principle of "greater involvement of persons living with HIV/AIDS" in policy making and programs. By incorporating human rights and empowerment-centered approaches, Nigeria's health policy has begun a transformation. In addition, Yinka works actively through various international forums to advocate for the full societal and official recognition of the human rights of all PLWHA's, especially in the areas of access to housing and drugs.
While serving as an executive board member of the AIDS Alliance in Nigeria, she saw that womens concerns such as policies for drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, were not adequately addressed. Yinka established the Nigerian Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (NWC+). Through NWC+, she aims to empower women living with HIV/AIDS by teaching them their rights and providing them with gender specific information. Yinka has linked together support groups of women across Nigeria and has empowered many to become active advocates for the human rights of women affected by AIDS.
Yinka is one of four remarkable people who were named recipients of the 2004 Reebok Human Rights Award.