By Ezra Ukanwa, Abuja
Efforts at projecting the concerns of young Nigerians living with Human Immunodeficiency Viruses, HIV, has received a boost with a debut publication by an international development expert, and Author, Amaka Momah-Haruna.
The book, entitled: “Generation Z: conversation with young people living with HIV,” was officially launched in Abuja and advocated for early education of children with HIV.
Speaking during the book presentation, Haruna, said the reason for writing the book stemmed from a deep motivation to tell unheard stories of those living with HIV.
She said that conversations with about ten of the young people living with HIV revealed how majority of them contracted the virus at early age, adding that 8 of the ten cohorts attempted suicide.
Stating that 30 per cent of the 1.9 million people living with HIV are young people, she called on the Federal Government, FG, to set up structures to ensure those living with HIV can function in schools and have access to job opportunities.
Her words: “these are stories of young Nigerians who are 15 year younger than me, who had overcome so much to get to where they are today. I thought to myself, how many people actually know these stories? They feel they know but they may actually not know these stories. Here I am supposedly a public health expert, with over 10 years experience, working on HIV programmes, and I didn’t know that most of them only found out in their late teens that they are HIV positive.
“I also didn’t know about the high rates of suicide attempts among these young cohorts. Also, about eight out of 10 of them had attempted suicide. I also didn’t know about the mental and physical torture that young people with HIV particularly the old ones, the mental health strings around it, and I didn’t know many of them find it difficult finding jobs because sometimes organisations routinely ask for pre-employment screening, and, then, you have to declare your HIV status when you don’t want to.
“We as the planners and programmers or designers are meant to be the ones advising government on policies and other issues, yet most of us don’t really know the real story that they have.
“When HIV was detected about 20 years ago, it was contracted by adults, but as I mentioned in the book for the first time, the world is experiencing a new generation of people who were born and have lived with HIV virus for over 20 years now and their experiences are totally different.
“How are we ensuring that we are setting up structures to ensure that they can function in schools and have access to job opportunities are meaningful and also relationships and also to ensure that they have access to drugs to make sure that their children as well, are HIV negative.
“They are not a small population of people like we often like to believe. In Nigeria, there are an estimated 1.9 million people living with HIV and about 30 per cent of those are young people living with HIV and I imagine that at least half of them don’t know they are HIV positive. And, while these stories I have in the book are those who are not transiting to in adulthood, they are still the stories of young people; younger teens living with HIV in Nigeria. Now I don’t have all the answers but in a nutshell that is why I wrote the book.”
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, and the keynote speaker, Dr. Prosper Okonkwo, during the launch said Nigeria’s progress to prevent HIV from children have been stalled.
He said lack of education, parental and care support, and communication are critical gaps that needed to be addressed in health delivery of people with HIV.
Similarly, he called on the government to integrate HIV services into Primary Health Care, PHC, stating arrangement national budgets should carry along adolescent rights.