Still In The Dark About HIV/AIDS

Rebecca Quarshie, 28, hardly feels comfortable whenever there is loose or serious talk about sex. Her unwillingness to discuss it has nothing to do with her being childless after five years of marriage. She just hated talking about it. ‘I was brought up in a family where anything concerning sex was a taboo. If the topic ever came up among my sisters, we nibbled at it in hushed tones’, she said.

However, the morning of Friday, August 1 marked a turning point in her perception of sex and its influence as the chief transmitter of HIV/AIDS. That was because the man who stood before her in the seminar room of the International Institute of Journalism, IIJ, in Berlin, Peter Plappert, had just said that an open discussion of sex is key, to demystifying the halo surrounding the dreaded HIV/AIDS. Plappert, a Munich-trained political scientist, veered off from politics in 2001 when the onslaught of the AIDS pandemic was searing through Europe and Africa. For four years, he worked as AIDS management advisor to Namibia with different government institutions and NGOs. He was in charge of HIV/AIDS ‘mainstreaming’ within the German Development Service, and coordinated AIDS workplace programmes in Central Africa.

Plappert told participants from Asia and Africa in the Environmental Reporting seminar that what were responsible for the sharp increase in the number of new HIV cases were not the traditional reasons like casual sex or use of sharp objects used for circumcision, barbing and drug administration. According to Plappert, ‘it is always human behaviour that creates the opportunity for HIV transmission’. He said that even though ‘dry’, anal and violent sex, untreated STIs and female circumcision all contributed a good percentage to the increase in the AIDS scourge, nobody had thought that relatively harmless things like kissing can result in a person contracting the dreadful disease. ‘Apart from infected blood, sperms and vaginal fluids, if about 30 litres of another person’s saliva gets into another’s system, it can have disastrous effects’, he said.

Plappert is not the only one who thinks that most people are still ignorant about other causes of HIV, apart from the well-known sex factors. A United Nations General Assembly Special Session, UNGASS, report, 2007, on HIV/AIDS indicated that the percentage of young people aged between 15-24, with knowledge and who could correctly identify ways of preventing HIV/AIDS was only 23 percent. Among Nigerian men who have sex with other men, MSM, only about 44 percent of them are aware that they must use a condom, while among the injection drug users, IDU, 34 percent know that their habits expose them to HIV/AIDS. The report also indicated that 11 percent of Nigerians still have unprotected sex with more than one partner, while those below 15 years of age who have had unprotected sex in the last year were as many as 140,000. If it is indeed a matter of fact that only 34 percent of Nigerian schools have made provisions for HIV skills –based education in the past year, then it stands to reason that the disease is on the rampage despite the huge sums expended by government and Non governmental organizations , NGOs. Available records indicate that the ‘application of the National AIDS Spending Assessment’, NASA, for 2006-2007 on HIV/AIDS was N4billion. That amount pales in comparison to the N7billion expended by the Nigerian government, N4billion of Debt Relief Gains, DRG, the N3billion spent by ministries, parastatals of government and global funds from the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PREPFAR, Department for International Development, DFID, the CIDA, World Bank and the UN System all amounted to N5billion. Since March 2007, the National Economic Council, NEC, approved that each state coordinating mechanism for NACA, should ensure that they should invest a minimum of one percent of their annual budgetary provision in the ministries of health, Agriculture, Youth and Women Affairs, to be dedicated to HIV/AIDS programming in their respective states. What with the monies already spent in creating plans of action, analysts say they believe that it is better to spend more money in the proper education of Nigerians concerning HIV/AIDS. ‘There are no giant billboards and big jamborees proclaiming the gospel according to what the government is doing or not doing. However the spread of HIV in Europe and Oceania is low compared to any other part of the world because people know almost everything about the HIV and know how to handle it’, Plappert said.

Michael Ogungbemi, director of Strategic planning, National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, in a report he prepared for UNGASS, said that the military was responsible for the initial inaction that the spread of the HIV in Nigeria. ‘However, the advent of democratic rule in 1999 brought about a significant change in the attitude of government to the epidemic as well as the response to it’, Ogungbemi said in the report.

Among the citizenry however, long held-beliefs about what causes HIV/AIDS linger. Adeleke Odukoya, a professional barber in Lagos told the magazine that people come to his shop with their own hair clippers ‘ because they think they can contract it from the clipper’, he said. According to him, many of these people are well to do, and very educated. Odukoya also said that in a day, he cuts as many as 30 people and three quarters of that number show up with their own clippers even after he sterilizes the four different clippers with chemicals imported from Europe.

Ademola Oladisu, medical director at the King Solomon Hospital in Anthony Village, Lagos said that on a ratio of one to thousand, the hair clipper might accidentally damage hair to the extent that it causes HIV/AIDS. ‘And even if that happens, the life span of the HIV outside an infected person is not up to one minute. It will die immediately. So, the chance of contracting HIV through hair clippers is very negligible’, he said. According to the doctor, people should be careful about other things like needles and ‘injectibles’ inserted into the body and used for others.

Nigeria ranks third in the world in terms of actual numbers of people infected with HIV, after India and South Africa. She ranks 158 out of 177 on the Human Development Report of 2007, with a human index put at 0.47. The first HIV/AIDS case in Nigeria was reported in 1986, and since then, the prevalence grew by two percent in 1991 but rose sharply by six percent in 2001, though with a slight decline in 2005. Since inception, as many as 3.86million people are current living with the dreaded disease, with 221,000 known deaths, 1.3 million ‘collateral orphans’ and 370 new infections in a single year alone. Investigations have shown too that among Nigerians from the ages 15-50, only 10 percent of the over 140-million population of the country have visited any centre, whether free or not, to know their HIV status.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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