Georgina Ahamefule V. Imperial Medical Centre & Dr. Alex Molokwu (Suit No. ID/1627/2000)
Lawsuit challenging the employment termination of Georgina Ahamefule, auxiliary nurse by the Imperial Medical Center, by the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Alex Molokwu, based on her HIV-positive status. Right to health; Right to informed consent for HIV testing; Right to pre and post HIV test counseling.
Georgina Ahamefule began working at the Imperial Medical Center as an auxiliary nurse in 1989. In 1995, while she was pregnant, she developed boils on her skin and sought medical attention from her employer Dr. Alex Molukwu, who conducted medical examinations and diagnostic tests without disclosing to her the nature and the outcome of the tests. Georgina tested positive for HIV and her employment contract was promptly terminated. The termination letter explained that the hospital’s management could not compromise the facility or its patients by exposing them to risks associated with Georgina’s HIV-positive status. Following the emotional and psychological trauma suffered by Georgina as a result of the news about her HIV-positive status and the loss of her employment, she had a miscarriage. Georgina was never provided any form of counseling either before or after the tests were carried out, even though both medical ethics and the law require such counseling to be conducted.
On July 14, 2000, the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) filed a lawsuit against the Imperial Medical Center and its Chief Medical Director, challenging the termination of Georgina Ahamefule’s employment. In an emblematic decision, Justice Y.O Idowu of the Lagos High Court held that the termination of the Plaintiff’s employment was "illegal, unlawful, and based on malice and extreme bad faith". The Court also held that the Defendant’s action in subjecting the plaintiff to HIV testing without her informed consent constituted an unlawful battery. Moreover, it ruled that Defendants’ action in not affording the Plaintiff pre-test and post-test counseling services constituted unlawful negligence of a professional duty. Finally, the Court established that the Defendant’s action in denying the Plaintiff medical care on grounds of her HIV-positive status constituted flagrant violation of the right to health guaranteed under article 16 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement), Act CAP 10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, and article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified in Nigeria in 1993).
The Court made an order of 5 Million Naira in general damages for the wrongful termination of the Plaintiff’s employment and an order of 2 Million Naira in compensation for unlawful HIV testing without the Plaintiff’s informed consent and the Defendant’s negligence.
Keywords: Georgina Ahamefule V. Imperial Medical Centre & Dr. Alex Molokwu (Suit No. ID/1627/2000), Work, Health, HIV/AIDS
The decision was handed down on September 27, 2012 and efforts to enforce the order of the court, particularly with respect to damages, are currently underway.
The decision represents a major victory for Georgina Ahamefule and for all those living with HIV. This is the first judicial pronouncement in Nigeria that recognizes the unlawfulness of HIV testing without the individual’s informed consent. Further, it is equally definitive on the point that conducting HIV tests on an individual without pre-test and post-test counseling constitutes unlawful negligence. The case also establishes the principle that denial of medical care on grounds of HIV-positive status constitutes a flagrant violation of the right to health. The monetary damages of 7 Million Naira awarded against the hospital and its Chief Medical director sends a strong signal that this kind of unjustifiable and unlawful discrimination against people living with HIV will no longer be tolerated.