A medical researcher, Dr Bamidele Iwalokun, on Wednesday urged Nigerians to avoid stigmatisation of people living with HIV/AIDS to enhance management of the scourge.
Iwalokun, who is also the Head of Immunology and Vaccinology Research Department, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, spoke in Lagos.
He spoke ahead of the World AIDS Day slated for Dec.1.
Its theme is: “Hands Up for #HIV Prevention’’.
The United Nations had in 1988 declared every Dec.1 as the World AIDS Day.
This is to honour AIDS victims and focus on issues surrounding HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
Iwalokun said, “This year’s World AIDS Day activities should let people be aware of the problems of stigmatisation of HIV patients and controlling the spread of the scourge.”
He said that the situation of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria had not improved due to lack of improvement in the number of HIV counselling and treatment centres.
“Nigeria is the second most burdened country for HIV after South Africa with 3.1 million people living with the scourge.
“Regarding distribution of HIV by gender in Nigeria, we have it as children-11 per cent; men-32 per cent and women- 57 per cent.
“This means that women remain at higher risk of having HIV than other gender in the country.
“There should be equity in access to treatment for everybody.
“But, stigmatisation of AIDS patients has become the mother of all challenges this population of Nigerians are facing,” Iwalokun said.
He said that “UNAID 90-90-90’’ targets could not be achieved as long as stigmatisation keeps recurring in our places of work, hospitals, market places and communities.
“The targets set about 10 years ago require 90 per cent of HIV patients to know their status, and 90 per cent of those who are HIV positive to start treatment.
“The remaining 90 per cent who are on treatment to achieve significant viral suppression to a level below 500 viral particles per ml of blood at which transmission will hardly occur,” Iwalokun said.
He urged all stakeholders in the health sector and HIV/AIDS control agencies to reach out to the high risk populations, like gays, bisexual, injection drug users, lesbians and prostitutes.
“This is because they are the populations driving new cases of HIV in Nigeria.
“Research is needed to improve early diagnosis of AIDS in newborns and enable us to evaluate the impact of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of AIDS in the country,” Iwalokun said.
Another medical researcher, Dr Oliver Ezechi, said that international partners and developmental agencies have done very well over the last decade in ensuring comprehensive AIDS care, treatment and support services were in place.
Ezechi, who is the Deputy Director of Research at NIMR, said, “The time is now ripe for the Nigerian Government to take absolute control of the national AIDS treatment response.
“Nigeria carries the second heaviest burden of HIV/AIDS in Africa and has an expanding population of People Living with HIV/AIDS.
“In spite of the challenges in scaling up access, institutional reforms and political commitment to tackle the scourge, Nigeria has seen more citizens placed on life saving medication.
“AIDS remains a threat to the population in Nigeria; it has continued to strain the struggling health system.
“It reverses many developmental gains of the recent past including the maternal and under-five mortality rates.
“The majority of AIDS infections in Nigeria are due to HIV/AIDS transmission within the general population, mainly within a sub-population of cohabiting or married couples,” Ezechi said.
He said that the Nigerian AIDS epidemic was also feminise and the burden was higher for women than men across all age groups, except those aged 35 to 44 years.
“In both urban and rural areas, AIDS
prevalence is consistently higher among females when compared to males.
“In review of the over 11 years of meticulously collected data at the HIV/AIDS treatment centre, NIMR attests to the feminisation of the epidemic in Nigeria.
“The proportion of female enrollees at the clinic population increased steadily from 60.2 per cent in 2004 to 68.6 per cent in 2015.
“The reported feminisation of HIV/AIDS globally, nationally and at the state level is not because women are more promiscuous than men.
“It is due to the conspiracy of nature, culture and man, because during penile-vaginal intercourse, woman’s body is physically more susceptible to HIV/AIDS infection than man.
“The risk of a woman contracting HIV is two to four times higher than that of man.
“To ensure that our mothers, sisters and daughters survive, to bring forth an AIDS free generation; we must strategically plot against the conspiracy of nature, culture and man,” he said.
Ezechi said that this could be done through conscious effort to educate women and empower them to be self-sufficient.
He also said that governments should institutionalise laws that delay the age at marriage, abhors and prevent violence against women, as well make life-saving ARV drugs accessible to them.
“Government should continuously improve data quality and supportive supervision at all levels to inform programme-planning and decision-making by all HIV/AIDS implementing agencies and stakeholders,” Ezechi said.