We live in a completely interdependent world, which simply means we cannot escape each other. How we respond to AIDS depends, in part, on whether we understand this interdependence, it is not someone else’s problem. This is everybody’s problem – Bill Clinton
Last week, the National Action Committee for the Control of AIDS (NACA), released the findings of the Nigerian HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact assessment Survey (NAIIS), which indicated that Akwa Ibom State now has the highest prevalence rate of HIV in Nigeria.
The survey showed that about 5.5% of the people are living with HIV /AIDS in Akwa Ibom State followed by Benue State with about 5.3%.
The government of Nigeria, with the support of the US President ‘s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) and other development partners with technical assistance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted NAIIS, one of the largest population based HIV/AIDS household survey in the world.
While the result showed that fewer people in Nigeria were living with HIV /AIDS with a drop in the prevalence from 3.17% in 2014 to 1.4%, meaning that 1.9 million persons now live with HIV /AIDS in Nigeria, the world’s largest black nation leading to a drop to the 4th position in the global HIV prevalence after South Africa, Mozambique and India.
Prior to the survey, Nigeria had the 2nd largest HIV/AIDS prevalence with 3.2 million persons having the disease.
Unfortunately, the survey showed that the South South Zone, which Akwa Ibom State is an integral part of recorded the highest prevalence rate.
The HIV /AIDS prevalence rate in our dear state is really worrisome and unacceptable to say the least.
Therefore, as patriotic Akwa Ibomites, this is not the time for blame games, rather all hands must be put on deck because if you are not infected, you are affected. By so doing, we will take our state out from the infamous position which is capable of increasing the morbidity and mortality rates in the state, deciminating our work force and adversely affecting the policies of government geared towards driving Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and human traffic to the State to boost our tourism industry.
While proffering possible solutions that could lead to a decline in the HIV /AIDS prevalence rate in the state, its pertinent to be reminded of some basic facts on HIV /AIDS and its modes of transmission.
HIV /AIDS is an incurable disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The infection with the virus progresses to Acquired Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
HIV was first detected in Nigeria in 1985 and reported in 1986 in Lagos State in a female sex worker aged 13 years.
Prior to this, in 1981, a few cases of a rare disease was being reported among gay men in New York and California, USA. It was only in 1983, that HIV was isolated and identified by researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France.
HIV is transmitted in about 70% of cases through unprotected sexual intercourse between an infected partner /partners. Other modes of transmission include :
i. From an infected mother to the unborn child.
ii. Through unscreened blood transfusion.
iii. Through sharing of sharp objects and other skin piercing instruments.
Further more, its commonly said that the control of HIV /AIDS is as simple as ABC. So why is the prevalence so high in Akwa Ibom State?
To curb the scourge of HIV /AIDS in our dear state, which will ultimately reduce the prevalence, a multi sectoral and dimensional approach is required :
Every Akwa Ibomite must take full responsibility for their health and well being including not contracting HIV /AIDS. Therefore, the Strategy to adopt is as simple as ABC.
B- Being mutually faithful
C- Correct and consistent use of condoms
2. EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
Particularly in secondary schools since it is much easier to elicit positive behavioural changes amongst young people. Therefore, to control the spread of HIV /AIDS, which is caused mainly through our lifestyles, The Ministry of Education in partnership with relevant MDA s and stakeholders need to take advantage of this attribute of young people by setting up the following :
i. Peer Education Training (PET)
Youth Corps Members who serve in Secondary Schools could be trained as Peer Educator Trainers (PETs) during their orientation camp. They will in turn train their students on basic knowledge on HIV /AIDS and its prevention, and also serve as their mentors.
ii. HIV/AIDS Club
The formation and institutionalization of these clubs should be encouraged in all secondary schools and this could be facilitated by the Peer Educators from the Peer Education Training (PET).
iii. Quiz competitions
Should be encouraged and promoted amongst secondary school students with focus on HIV /AIDS.
At the community level, opinion leaders, traditional and religious leaders should serve as role models and mentors by promoting lifestyles that reduce the risk of contracting HIV /AIDS.
4. PROFESSIONAL BODIES
Like the NMA, NBA, NUJ etc also have a big role to play through sustained awareness creation and the protection of the rights of people living with HIV /AIDS to reduce stigma and discrimination.
5. CORPORATE BODIES
These bodies in the state should incorporate the fight against HIV /AIDS into their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. These could be in the form of free slots for jingles in the radio and TV stations. The owners of print media Houses could also give free spaces in their news papers and magazines for adverts on HIV /AIDS. Other corporate bodies like Oil companies , construction companies, agro – allied companies etc should also include HIV /AIDS into their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
6. SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS
Should also take up the fight by sharing messages on HIV /AIDS through the social media ( whatsapp, facebook, twitter, instagram etc). This will ensure that the large population of young people who are on the social media are reached.
The government has a very big role to play in combating this scourge in the state. Thankfully, the Governor Udom Emmanuel led Administration has taken some proactive steps by establishing agencies that will help in the fight.
However, there is a need to strengthen existing agencies and institutions through increased funding and capacity building to enable them deliver on their core constitutional mandates.
i. The Akwa Ibom State Agency for the Control of AIDS (AK-SACA)
This is the Agency saddled with the Control of HIV /AIDS in our dear state. The agency needs to be strengthened through regular payment of subventions and release of counter part funds to enable her carry out her functions more effectively.
ii. The State Primary Health Care Development Agency (SPHCDA)
Luckily for us, the Governor Udom Emmanuel led Administration had been proactive by establishing this agency in 2018 whose bill was passed into law on the 30th of May 2017.
As expected, the agency will attract critically needed funds to combat HIV /AIDS from NACA, donor bodies and strategic partners.
The Agency will also strengthen Primary Health Care, thus making Ante Natal Care (ANC) Services more readily available thus helping to reduce Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV /AIDS.
iii. The Ethical and Attitudinal Re-orientation Commission(EARCOM)
This important Commission should be strengthened through capacity building and increased funding to carry out more awareness and sensitization Campaigns on HIV /AIDS to elicit positive behavioural changes.
iv. The State Ministry of Health
Is saddled with formulating and implementing health policies and programs for the State. Therefore, the HIV /AIDS control program in the Ministry needs to be strengthened through capacity building, creation of a budget line and regular release of funds for the Unit ‘ s programs like the celebration of the World AIDS Days etc.
Its also worthy to note that the efforts of the present government in strengthening the secondary health care delivery System through the massive renovations of hitherto dilapidated secondary health facilities and equipping of these hospitals, will help to improve blood transfusion Services in the various institutions.
The HIV /AIDS prevalence rate in Akwa Ibom State is really alarming and therefore should not be taken lightly because HIV /AIDS has no cure.
Therefore, while implementing the strategies highlighted above, urgent measures should be taken to begin massive awareness Campaigns across the State to preserve the lives of our Children and generations yet unborn because as they say, ‘ AIDS NO DE SHOW FOR FACE’
OUR HEALTH IS OUR WEALTH!
– Dr Aniekeme Uwah is the Akwa Ibom State Epidemiologist and Convener, Doctors4Udom