For Nigerian women and girls to survive the onslaught of HIV and bring forth an AIDS-free generation, it is incumbent on all stakeholders to educate them to delay coitarche age, empower them to be self-sufficient, enact laws that delay the age at marriage, prevent violence against them, as well make life-saving ARV drugs accessible and affordable to them and their families, Dr Oliver Chukwujekwu Ezechi, deputy director of research at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) Yaba , Lagos, has said.
Dr Ezechi, who made the submission while presenting the 6th Distinguished Lecture of the institute on 9 November, 2016, stated that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among the Nigerian female gender is higher than that of the male gender, putting it at 60 per cent of the HIV positive population.
He added that the risk of a woman contracting HIV is two to four times higher than that of a man.
The expert, whose findings were based on twelve years of research at the HIV Testing Service Centre of NIMR, noted that the geometrical increase of the infection among the female population stems from a conspiracy of nature, culture and man.
The lecture titled: “That She May Survive, And Bring Forth An Aids-Free Generation”, with the main objectives of stemming the tide of HIV infection among women and preventing mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of the virus, further postulated a proven formula for PMTCT.
According to the researcher, “If the active PMTCT strategy of ensuring that all pregnant HIV positive women are placed on life-saving highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) the same day they are seen for the first time is adopted nationally, the country will be able to reduce mother to child transmission (MTCT) rate to less than one per cent as we have done consistently in NIMR”.
Emphasising the significant role of HAART in preventing mother to child transmission, Prof. Ezechi narrated what happened when his team adopted it in caring for over 5,886 pregnant HIV positive mothers, stating that only 49 of the 5089 babies were confirmed HIV positive, showing an MTCT rate of less than one per cent, which compares favourably with the best in world.
Explaining the secret behind the low MTCT rate in their programme, he noted that while other antenatal and delivery services may be important for safe motherhood, the key strategy to achieving near zero MTCT is to place all pregnant women on HAART once confirmed be to HIV positive.
Dr Ezechi who recalled how his team were maligned over the introduction of HAART and forced to revert to mono or dual therapy which was of lower quality and associated with development of drug resistance, expressed his greatest delight that ten years after all the struggles, the rejected stone has become the cornerstone, as their position has now been adopted by the Federal Ministry of Health because the WHO is beginning to adopt the same approach.
He further urged the government to put in place appropriate checks on all institutions providing HIV testing services, to ensure that they have authentic licences, use well trained staff and licensed test kits, as well as following the national HIV testing guidelines.
The researcher, who made the submission based on his field experience at NIMR, said his team found that a number of individuals previously diagnosed HIV positive elsewhere were found to be negative at their own institute.
Stressing the importance of having standardised HIV testing centres across the country, he said the implications of being erroneously labelled HIV positive for an individual and their family are far reaching and range from simple anxiety and family disintegration to self-harm, homicide and suicide.