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HIV/AIDS prevalence is stabilising in Nigeria – Professor Akinsete

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A retired Professor of Haematology & Blood Transfusion, Prof.(Mrs) Ibironke Akinsete was until a few months ago the Chairman of the Lagos State Blood Transfusion Service. A trustee of AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria and a life patron of the Society for Women & AIDS in Africa, Nigeria –SWAAN, Prof. Akinsete was the pioneer Chairman of the National Action Committee on AIDS- NACA. She spoke recently with Vista Woman on the status of HIV/AIDS at an event put together in Lagos by the Soroptimist International of Eko in collaboration with SWAAN, in commemoration of the 2011 World Aids Day marked yearly on December 1.

Her words:

I was the Chairman of the Lagos State Blood Transfusion Service, an organization whose objective is to ensure safe blood transfusion for everyone across Lagos state. By safe blood, we mean that we want only voluntary blood donors. These are the ones who are not likely to have diseases or infections.

Unfortunately, there are very few of them in Lagos state. As a matter of fact, these people only constitute less than 5% of people who donate blood. What we mostly have are family replacement donors whose statuses are hardly known. However, Lagos State is trying very hard to increase the number of voluntary blood donors. The response has so far been quite impressive.

Lagos State screens for what we call Blood Transfusion Transmissible Diseases. As a matter of fact, it is the only State in the country that has it as law, that all blood must be screened for HIV-1, HIV-2, Hepatitis B & C, and Syphilis before transfusion. We have screening centres in most of the hospitals in Lagos state, and according to the law, all blood, both private and public, must be screened for these five diseases.

They must be certified to be safe! There is a Lagos state label which says ‘This blood has been screened’. Therefore, anyone who transfuses any blood that is not carrying the Lagos state label is liable to prosecution because it means that the blood has not been screened by the state for the earlier mentioned five infections. The National Blood Transfusion Service is also trying to do the same, but that still has a long way to go.

I’m happy now that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is stabilizing in Nigeria. As at last year, it was 4.5% but now it has dropped to 4.1%. Worldwide also, from the report from UNAIDS, there is a drop in terms of new infections and the number of people dying of HIV/AIDS.

So, the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “Zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS death”. This theme will be carried on up to 2015 because it is the ultimate goal. A lot has been done on HIV/AIDS and it is commendable that the problem is reducing, but the truth is that we have not arrived yet. We cannot say the mission has been accomplished until we have zero in every aspect of HIV/AIDS.

To achieve this zero agenda, we all need to continue creating awareness. We have to keep on informing, educating, testing and counseling, upgrading strategies that work, etc. For instance, we know that prevention works. Prevention includes ensuring that people are educated, counseled and also know their status.

Young boys and girls should be made to know the risky behaviours they should avoid as well! Risky behaviours like having multiple sex partners, extra-marital sex, pre-marital sex, oral sex, homosexual intercourse, to mention but a few, should be guarded against.

Students should also beware of cult initiations because that’s one of the ways a lot of them get infected, especially as they usually involve blood! Why should anyone with a good plan for his or her destiny agree to getting initiated into any cult group in the first place? We also have to be careful about the manner in which we handle skin-piercing instruments, blood transfusion, pregnant women(to prevent mother-child transmission), etc.

Parents too should endeavour to grab as much information as possible on HIV so as to save their families. We must all be able to internalize and pass on the message! We must talk to our young ones because if we do not talk to them, they will yield to bad information which they get from wrong sources!

It is a good thing that we now have treatment. But the truth is that the treatment would only help prolong life; it cannot cure! Therefore, we must put together prevention and treatment because we cannot abandon one for the other. Also, everyone has to start talking about AIDS if we must achieve this zero level we are talking about.

Women carry the brunt of this epidemic because more than half of the people infected worldwide have been shown to be women and young girls. This is because there is violence against women! Women’s rights are not observed, so many are poorly educated and so many do not have income generating skills. We must look into all these because AIDS is not just a medical condition but a social-economic issue. Therefore, we must look into all these perspectives to achieve this zero target.

Discrimination is also another problem. Discrimination in the workplace, home and society does not help the fight against HIV because nobody would want to come out in such a situation. Therefore, there is a risk of passing on the infection! Many companies have policies on HIV but the question is: Are these policies implemented hundred percent? Companies need to make sure counseling and treatment are made accessible to their staff.

That way, they will be able work profitably and not pass it on to other members of staff. Communities too need to engage in awareness creation, using local languages; especially in rural communities. People should be encouraged to know their HIV status, and should also be made to understand that having HIV is not the end of the world. For those who are negative, it is better to desist from risky behaviours that could bring about HIV.’

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