AIDS in Nigeria: the Ignorance Factor

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

There are so many times in our life as adults that we take people who are not as physically grown or educationally endowed as we may be for granted. I once had a student who did not vigorously argue with me that it was possible to be infected with the dreadful AIDS virus via a little cut inflicted on the head from those clippers in our public barbing saloons. My argument was based on the fact that those clippers and the way they are constructed hardly inflict that kind of injury that facilitates an infection. Apart from that too, it was my argument that a lot of these clippers are sterilized, leaving little or no room in the first place for a cut of that magnitude that eventually leaves the body to an infection. How wrong I was!

First, it did not occur to me that my boy Jordan (for that is his name) is not that kind that swallowed his teacher’s words like a hungry fish. He had a mind of his own and would take you, his teacher on an excursion to the laundry to remove the stains you leave behind from not preparing enough for your class. Second, it also did not occur to me that the youngster was an active participant in an AIDS awareness programme designed to enlighten the army of ignorant people on that subject and of whom I was chief. Therefore, it was a Jordan who put it clearly to me that it took just as minuscule as that kind of cut for the virus to wriggle into the system and disarm the immune system. Well, this is the paradox of a teacher who goes into his class to teach but gets a good lesson from his student.

The other reason why you would read the UN Report on the human development index and find out that statistics indicate that AIDS is actually on the spread mostly in Nigeria is the question of the use of condoms (hereinafter referred to as ‘CD’). The proponents of the use of the rubbery contraption hinge their argument on the fact that it is not always easy to abstain or be faithful to one partner at a time. They argue that if you are unable to ‘hold body’, you better use a CD. And just as the Gideon’s International would with their little bibles, you could find CDs today distributed to hotels, schools, prisons, hospitals, public and private institutions. All of this is to ensure that the spread of the dreaded virus is contained to some extent since there is no cure yet.

The CD is not as efficacious as we are made to believe and the disputes involved therein are as passionate as the source of the disease itself. My colleague, the microbiologist just made that very clear to me that an ordinary CD has certain ‘pores’ which do not create the friction and excitement associated with sex. The microbiologist insists that even with that CD, the HIV virus still has an equal chance when uncondomised sex takes place. This is because first, the heat inherent in the spermatozoa is capable of being vapourised and second, can pass through those pores and into the reproductive system.

The problem I had with this hypothesis is the same that I had with the little-cut-enough-to-transmit-HIV hypothesis. My problem is this: could the relative short time it took between ejaculation and withdrawal be good enough for the ‘spermal’ vapour to be suffused in the system?I do not want to argue too much particularly when these sort of propositions are proffered mostly from an enlightened perspective, but there goes. Even though I agree without reservations that infection can take place when lacerations occur during sex or that yes, sometimes the CD cold tear or fall of outright, I found this idea a little like one you could tell to the marines. But the expert has said so and I guess it should be so. I do not want to find myself in another position where an unrelenting argument from the children in my charge prove too strong to contend with.

This (the realization that the CD is not a hundred per cent a safeguard against the AIDS virus) is why I should want to join camps, not with the total abstinence group, not with the CD group but with the group that would educate people on the dangers of indiscriminate and casual sex. I reckon that there are pots and pots of money to be made by those who manufacture the CDs and that is why the sustained hype on the need to use one by placing those CDs in hospitals, prisons, hotels, public and private institutions will not altogether help the anti-AIDS struggle. The other group too is a little unreasonable with the total abstinence argument. The sort of pressure there is today to have sex is so overwhelming that I doubt if monks or nuns themselves could survive it if they were to live right among us. Today, nearly every advert has an overt sexual gesture and invitation; every video, if it has not shown semi-nude girls vigorously dangling that derrière of theirs cannot be said to be a complete work of creativity; most banks may not have done business if their skimpily attired ladies have not ‘marketed’ the bank to some big shot in anticipation of some handsome deposit.

There is a lot of ignorance today concerning the HIV-AIDS pandemic in spite of all of the publicity and the interest it generates with the world’s governments. There is also a lot of ignorance and controversy too concerning its origin. The other day, I chanced upon Dr. Emeagwali’s piece, ‘Globalisation Not New; Look at Slave Trade’, where the doc brought it to light that scientific records show that the first AIDS victim was from Manchester, England. According to Dr. Emeagwali, David Carr, a sailor died of the disease August 31, 1959.He was responsible for spreading the disease to Africa before it eventually entered America. Emeagwali cited that all of this info can be gotten from the scientific journal, The Lancet. The other argument, I guess, from those interested in debunking the David Carr hypothesis states that HIV-AIDS was originally known as ‘slim disease’, gotten from the disease that Massai tribesmen of East Africa got from sucking animal blood as part of their rituals. American and British tourists who are wont to visit the game reserves in Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda eventually got infected somehow, much the same way the Masai experienced severe droughts, famine and smallpox due to contact with Europeans around the 1880s and 1890s.

Well, as far as I am concerned, the origin of the dreaded virus is not what is important. Those who claim that the problem originated from us certainly will point to the prevalence of the disease here compared to their climes.That is why the issue today is how to curtail its spread in Nigeria and indeed in the West African region. Anti-retroviral drugs may not be available to everyone but what I do know is almost available to everyone is information, education and enlightenment. I believe that instead of telling people to use CDs or abstain, we must concentrate on telling them ALL about the disease. Tell people about sex. Remove the taboos we usually arrogate to it and if I have my way, sex education should be introduced into our national educational curriculum. I remember trying to couch certain answers to certain questions that a seven-year old girl once asked me. ‘Are you talking about sperm?’, she asked, seeing the obvious difficulty in explaining to her pertinent issues that lead to pregnancy. It is important to tell young people that sex is about married people who are committed to each other, and take responsibility for their actions. Tell them about it. If we must encourage them to use a CD means that we must also tell them that even the CD is not the answer to the problem. Telling them about abstinence means that we must also say that even abstinence has its dangers.

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