Monday, April 27, 2015

HIV Prevalence In Nigeria: The Govt Must Wake UP

With the help of UK's Dept for International Development (DfID), as well as USA Pepfar Nigeria has been able to maintain the fight against HIV since 2009. That meant that messages about HIV was being sounded all over and treatment provided to some but not all. During my visit to Nigeria in 2012, the messages arent really translating much into practice. Something I blamed the lax cultural bondage that many Nigerians live in.

Currently, it has been announced that the 6-year HIV awareness and prevention program supported by UK's DfID has come to an end. At its end however, 3.2million people live with HIV in that country. This number may still not be exactly right for the real number of people living wih HIV, considering that healthcare access are totally not in existence in some remote parts of the country. And in some place where they exists, Nigerians still prefer to 'leave it to God' than know their status through scientific method.

This is not surprising when you consider the high level of discrimination on the ground in Nigeria. I remember my sister giving me a lift and getting pissed off at HIV discussion on the radio. To my utter disbelief, my sister only uses AIDS instead of HIV... something I also observed with many other people in buses, flights, restuarants, shopping malls, etc. Yet, I praised the media at the level HIV is talked about; far out-did what we have in the UK where the media is almost silent on the subject.

With that level of ignorance - or shall I say, denial - in Nigeria, a reduced campaign due to the end of one important stream of funding is scary. The Nigerian government must act; and act quickly that is. From my observation, regardless of the campaign on awareness, I felt more needed to be done to strengthen those campaigns. These would include
  • ensuring that every pregnant mother attending anti-natal receives a test as well as their partner; 
  • strengthening grassroots charities with more funds through local authorities; 
  • removing discriminatory laws which criminalises same-sex partners so that they can feel free to come forward for testing and get the needed treatment;
  • re-orientate healthcare workers on their duty of care to everyone accessing their service without prejudice;
  • Provided sustainable support groups through charities and faith organisations;
  • Work directly with faith organisations to ensure that the messages are not just heard but they are discussed, explained, and myths solved;
  • provide truly confidential environment for testing; and finally,
  • Implement laws and policies that uphold fairness, dignitiy and equality before the law.
All the above are achievable but at the crux of it stands yet another very essential issue; mental health. This is terribly poor with sufferers still roaming homeless and uncatered for on the streets and many early symptoms missed or not looked out for, making rational decision to use protection during sex would definitely be unachievable for some.

If the above are not sustained, the number will only rise sporadically. And 3.2million multiplication can be more rapid than wildfire. So lets hope that the Nigerian govt would see the importance of picking up the tab and not wait for the 'West' while squandering what is left of the national wealth. 

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