…Say HIV no longer death sentence

By Chioma Obinna

With only eight years left to the 2030 goal of ending AIDS as a global health threat, the Nigerian government has been urged to mobilise resources to ensure that no person living with HIV is left out of treatment, especially, children, adolescent girls, women, and key populations.

 The call is coming on the heels of the call by the World Health Organisation, WHO, Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti that governments and partners should close the inequality gaps in the progress toward ending AIDS by focusing on the populations that are being left behind.

 According to Moeti, HIV prevention programmes reach only 40 per cent of adolescent girls and young women. “Only one in three key populations, who are particularly vulnerable to HIV, have regular access to HIV prevention services and they still face significant structural barriers, including criminalisation, discrimination, and stigma. They include sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons and detention and transgender people.”

 Speaking with Good Health Weekly during a Kick Against HIV/AIDS Football Tournament and Medical outreach organised by the Youth Development and Empowerment Initiative, YEDI, to mark this year’s World AIDS Day in Lagos tagged:, the Executive Director, Adeoye Oluwatomisin said the government must be intentional in ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services.

  “Government needs to do more to ensure that people are aware of their status even the healthcare providers need further education that interacting with these people will not transmit HIV.

 “HIV is not a death sentence because the disease can be managed, so far, it cannot be cured but there are anti-retroviral drugs that can be used to manage the virus.”

 Adeoye who noted that YEDI’s theme for this year was “Putting Ourselves to Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV”, insisted that though the world has made progress in reducing the prevalence of HIV Nigeria should be intentional in creating awareness, free services and drugs so that people living with HIV will have access to healthcare services.

 “It is not something the government can do alone but all of us need to come together to reduce prevalence and individuals need to take responsibility because there are different ways HIV can be transmitted such as through blood transfusion, and sharing of needles etc.

In line with WHO’s call for expansion, she said YEDI is expanding its interventions to Rivers state the 3rd HIV high-burden state in Nigeria. “In Lagos, we plan to reach at least 500 people with prevention messages and free screening and other medical treatments while we planned to reach at least 2,500 persons nationwide.”

 Speaking, the Partnership Program manager for Nigeria for Grassroot Soccer, Mr. Babatunde Odusolu who described the event as the major event in the HIV world after the pandemic subsided said COVID-19 caused little setbacks, hence, to be able to end HIV infections by 2030 as planned, people should be given equal opportunity, equal access to testing, equal access to prevention information and equal access to treatment.

 “People who are most at risk like the sex workers,  men having sex with men, transgender, those people that because of stigma and social perception their risks becomes higher because they don’t come out to access treatment.  They are left behind. We are talking of equity for everyone and that is the difference this time.”

 He said there was a need for the government to focus more on it as the coverage is very low in the country.

 Odusolu explained that they are using soccer to spread prevention messages on HIV as it is very attractive to young people even the older ones.

Corroborating their views, a PLWHA, Mrs Toyin Omotosho called for equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care.

She lamented that many of them are denied access to most facilities across the country due to the introduction of fees to pick up drugs and other tests such as liver function tests and viral load.

 Omotosho urged the Federal government to intervene as many of them are dying due to their inability to pay since they have no jobs.

 “The charges may be as little as between N1000 and N5,000, but many of the PLWHA cannot afford it.  In some cases, husbands and wives are positive including their children.  Many have lost their jobs because of their status.   It will go a long way if the government can take up the payment in those facilities still charging money.”

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