– 3.4m Nigerians living with HIV (by Gracia Obi)
Has it occurred to you that Nigeria bears the second highest HIV burden in the world? The Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Professor John Idoko, recently made the disclosure, stating that 3.4 million Nigerians are now living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), making the country the second largest HIV burden globally.
Professor Idoko stated that, while the national prevalence stabilised around four percent, 13 states still carry a higher burden target in several important indicators.
The NACA DG made the startling disclosures at a Senate public hearing ona“Bill for an Act to make provision for the prevention of HIV discrimination and to protect the human rights and dignity of people living with HIV and affected by Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and other related matters,” in Abuja.
According to findings, Benue still tops the states with the highest HIV prevalence rate, followed by AkwaIbom, Bayelsa, Anambra, Nasarawa and FCT.
Idoko explained that one out of every three people in need is currently receiving treatment and added that only 18 percent of HIV positive women receive prophylaxis against mother to-childtransmission.
He lamented that only 18 percent of the population have ever been tested, while more than 40 per cent of HIV positive persons do not know their status.
He further said that when passed, the bill would strengthen legal protection for vulnerable groups and ensure their greater access to prevention, treatment and care services.
Meanwhile, the senate president, Senator David Mark, in his opening remarks at the public hearing, called for an end to stigmatisation and discrimination against HIV infected persons in the country.
Mark, who was represented by the deputy senate leader, Abdul Ningi, said people should be educated to know that HIV is like any other disease, which could be contracted unknowingly. “It is important for all to be educated to know that HIV is just like any other disease. Once it is discovered, all a sufferer needs to do is to access treatment and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
He lamented that many HIV positive people are now afraid to carry out tests or access necessary treatment, as a result of negative societal attitudes. According to him, “Infected people are hiding under common diseases like diabetes because of discrimination. They will not tell you that they are HIV positive, for fear of being discriminated against in their workplaces, family and religious organisations.”
Stressing the collective effort required to curb the spread of the disease and the stigma often associated with it, the senate president further said, “When we lose lives because of HIV infection, it means we are irresponsible. Infected people are just as important as other members of the society.That somebody is infected does not mean he is not a good or morally upright person, or that he should be denied employment or barred from his social networks.HIV is a disease that can be contracted both intentionally and accidentally.”