|Okoh Emmanuel, a student at BITC, and a staff of CDAC during the free HIV and Hepatitis testing session|
According to Mr. Adenitan Lawrence, the manager at BITC, the purpose of the program was to create awareness about Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS to staff, students and clients of the organization.
“We believe that once you are informed, you are better transformed,” he says, “Not only you but even your family and other colleagues and members of the society, as the case may be.”
The event, which was a collaboration between BITC and the Center for Disease and Aid Control (CDAC) was aimed at also creating an avenue for participants to access free voluntary HIV and Hepatitis counselling and testing.
Nasarawa state currently has one of the highest HIV prevalence rate in Nigeria. According to National Bureau of Statistics, while there were 3, 083, 004 people living with HIV in Nigeria in 2007, Nasarawa state had a population of 106, 629 people living with HIV. In 2012, the Nigerian Journal of Basic and Clinical Sciences reported that Nasarawa has a prevalence of 7.5% of HIV, which is higher than the average national prevalence of 4.1%.
Dr. Gideon Ayuba, a representative of CDAC points out that illiteracy and religion are barriers hindering efforts to curb the spread of HIV in the state.
“We understand it [HIV] is rising very very fast and also the issue of Hepatitis is also rising,” Ayuba says. Adding that awareness creation is an important tool needed to reverse the impact of the spread of the virus.
According to Ayuba, most people in Nasarawa state do not go for HIV test because of their religious beliefs and tradition. People’s ignorance and poor literacy level also hinders the AIDS response, he says.
Although free counselling and testing session was available during the awareness campaign program, not all the participants took advantage of it. Fatoyinbo Olasimbo, one of the participants, says she did not take any HIV test because of fear of the unknown.
“I’m not interested,” she says. “I have never had HIV test and I don’t have plans to.”
Fatoyinbo, in spite of her unwillingness to know her HIV status, advocates for more awareness creation.
“Although I did not get the test done but at least I’m informed,” she says, “People should come for this kind of program to get informed to know what is good for them.”
Another participant, Joseph Omugu, says lack of awareness is the leading cause of most related deaths. He also believes an increased awareness on the issue of HIV and Hepatitis will reduce such incidences.
“By giving this awareness, it is going to help us a lot,” he says.
He however disagrees with Fatoyinbo on the issue of HIV test. “It is good for one to know his status because [by] knowing your status you will take prevention,” he says.
Omugu says his knowledge about HIV and Hepatitis is improved as a result of attending the program.
“This lecture is going to make me know my status today,” he says.
Early this year, the Executive Governor of Nasarawa state, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, signed the bill prohibiting discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS into law. Stakeholders in the civil society sector believe the action will improve efforts to curb the spread of HIV.
“We understand the stigmatization is worse than the virus itself,” says Ayuba, “it kills faster than the virus itself.”
Ayuba says the anti-stigmatization law will make a lot of impact in Nasarawa state because many people living with HIV will be free to live their lives.
“They will be able to live their lives without people stigmatizing them,” he says.
He, however, noted that there was need for more awareness on what stigma is about in order for people to understand the relevance of the law at the grassroots.
Adenitan advises other Non-Governmental Organizations to keep spreading the message to raise awareness.
“I just want to use this forum to call on other NGOs and other well to do philanthropists in our society to keep spending their money to create more awareness.”
He adds, “Keep sending the message, keep creating awareness so that people will know. We want to spread the information and not the virus.”
An increased awareness can reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis in Nasarawa state, he says.
This report was made possible by a grant from the International Reporting Project to report on global health and development in Nigeria. This story was first published by HealthNewsNG.com.