December 1st is recognised internationally as World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is a unique opportunity each year for us to reflect on the way that HIV and AIDS affect us personally, our local communities and how we can respond to the global pandemic including the need for support and understanding for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the need for the development of education and prevention initiatives.
According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 39.5 million people living with HIV, including 2.3 million children. During 2006 some 4.3 million people became newly infected with the virus. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35.
The other day, I was in a metro heading to Washington when I saw an Ad that the number of people living with HIV in Washington DC is higher than that of Nigeria. I got scared not because I don’t know of the figures in Nigeria. What struck me was that it has gotten to the stage where motherland has to be used as a reference point for HIV & AIDS no longer South Africa.
Around 95% of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing nations and Nigeria has been named the third country in the world after South Africa and India with the highest number of people living with the disease, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
In Nigeria, there are about 4,032,706 cases of people living with HIV. Mind you, this is unofficial figure in a country with little or no health care facilities; a country where the populace rarely seek medical attention unless it is a matter of life and death. So the real figures will be scarily.
Started on 1st December 1988, World AIDS Day is now focusing on increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education. Recently, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State said 13 secondary school girls raped by miscreants are now HIV positive.
As the cases of rape during armed robbery increases in Nigeria, what are the health consequences of STD? Are we doing enough to sensitize our children especially at the secondary school level on the dangers of premarital sex? Or better still, do they really understand the seriousness of HIV, how it is spread, how you identify carriers and most importantly the risks of having unprotected sex?
World AIDS Day in Nigeria is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. The theme for 2007 World AIDS Day is – Stop AIDS; Keep the Promise – Leadership
“Leadership”, highlights the need for innovation, vision and perseverance in the face of the AIDS challenge. The campaign calls on all sectors of society such as families, communities and civil society organisations – rather than just governments – to take the initiative and provide leadership on AIDS.
Worthy of mention here is the great initiative of Celtel Nigeria that marks World AIDS Day with awareness campaigns, lectures and educating programs. Other corporate organizations, government ministries and agencies are encouraged to follow suit and initiate programs that will get all the staff actively involved in creating awareness. Similarly, the day should be marked in our public and private schools at all levels with the aim of increasing the awareness while emphasizing on abstinence.
One of the biggest challenges in Nigeria still remains the informal sectors – the market men and women, the Road Transport Workers, the street Traders. How do we get them actively involved and informed?
The health ministries in the three tiers of government must initiate programs targeting this informal sector in collaboration with their leadership of the association. Alternatively, the leaders of the Market Associations, NURTW, drivers etc must make World AIDS Day a compulsory event in their calendar. They should invite health professionals and NGOs on AIDS to deliver well packaged program that will include musical/drama performances, free counseling, testing and clinics for treatment. The government must also be seen to be putting measures on the ground to provide drugs for this treatment at affordable prices without being hampered by corrupt government officials.
Break the silence about HIV in Nigeria, in your community, in the church, mosque, workplace, bars and even among your peers as you sit down to gossip about love and sex. Wear a red ribbon for World AIDS Day to help get people talking about HIV. Make your voice heard and join the campaigns for free HIV treatment for everyone in Nigeria and to make World AIDS Day a permanent awareness day in our schools at all levels.
This year, it is up to you, me and us to stop the spread of HIV and end the prejudice. It’s World AIDS Day; get involved and get talking!