Thursday, November 28, 2013

An HIV-free #Nigeria must start with pregnant women, says expert #IRP13

Gloria, early 30s, is a tailor by profession. She lives in Nassarawa, North central Nigeria. She is married, has one child and is expecting another.

Gloria also serves as a mentor-mother at the tertiary Hospital in her community. As a mentor-mother, she coordinates the support group created for women living with HIV who access treatment at the health center. Drawing from her experience living with HIV and successfully adhering to the Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) treatment, Gloria mentors other women on how to go about it.

Living with HIV“I found out that [I’m] HIV positive in 2003,” Gloria says. A persistent fever and leg pain had forced Gloria’s family to take her to hospital for a confirmatory test. After several other tests, a doctor asked her permission to test for HIV. Gloria accepted. “So after the test he came and told me that I’m HIV positive,” she says. “He asked me if I [want] him to tell my parents. I said yes but that he should just tell my mother first.” She added.

The doctor advised Gloria to start her treatment immediately. He referred her to a tertiary Healthcare centre in a neighboring state due to the unavailability of Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs in her state. “On reaching there, they declared the drugs free,” she says. This made treatment affordable for her. But prior to her starting on ARV, she says her brother had initially blamed her condition on witchcraft and other estranged family members.

He placed her forcefully on herbal treatment but when she refused to take it, he stopped paying her hospital bills.

According to UNAIDS, in 2012 an estimated 35.3 million people globally were living with HIV, 2.3 million people became newly infected with HIV while 1.6 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

In Nigeria, there are over three million people living with HIV and Nasarawa state has one of the highest prevalence rate at 7.5%, according to a report by Nasarawa State AIDS Control Agency (NASACA). In Nassarawa-Eggon where Gloria lives, between January and August 2013, out of about two thousand people who tested for HIV, about three hundred were HIV positive, reveals a recent report by the Local AIDS Control Agency (LACA).

Nassarawa-Eggon, comprising of urban and rural inhabitants, is a local government area with an estimated population of one hundred and eighty three people, according to a 2006 statistics by National Population Commission (NPC).

Although there are eighty-six public health facilities and twelve private facilities in the area, only twenty-three are offering HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) with treatment sites. However, an increased awareness about HIV and AIDS has contributed to people accessing treatment irrespective of their religious background, says a nurse at the Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) centre of one of the health facilities.

To tackle the spread of HIV and AIDS in Nasarawa state, different organizations are supporting the state government in carrying out various intervention programmes. According to a recent report by LACA, Enhancing Nigeria’s Response (ENR), Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) and SOLINA health have trained communicators to create awareness about HIV/AIDS through drama and use of flipchart presentations; run comprehensive treatment of HIV/AIDS in tertiary and primary health centers as PMTCT sites; and offer PMTCT service, respectively.
A staff of IHVN says the organization, which has its headquarter in Abuja, has been working in collaboration with Nasarawa state government since 2006 to strengthen the work towards sustainability of HIV prevention in the state.

“What we do here is we are providing treatment, care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS and we also emphasis on mother-to-child transmission prevention,” she says.

“To be free from HIV in Nigeria, we must start with pregnant women and the pregnant women will have to be on treatment to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies,” the IHVN staff says.
Coping with stigmatization
Access to treatment has enabled Gloria, her husband and their HIV-negative child maintain a healthy living. But she says it was not all rosy at the beginning. There was a high rate of stigmatization in her community. “If I drink water and use cup even my mother was afraid then. She’ll tell my brothers they should not use it.” She says. Her neighbours also forbade their children from eating the food she cooked. “If I’m passing, people will be calling me ‘HIV, AIDS, HIV, AIDS’. I’ll pretend as if I did not hear.”

Earlier this year, the Nasarawa state government passed the HIV and AIDS Anti-stigma Bill into Law to protect people infected and affected by AIDS. But not many people know about the existence of this law.

In 2004, Gloria joined a support group organized by a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in her community. “I was committed there,” she says. It was at this programme she met her husband. “I [don’t even hope] someone will say this woman I like you but it takes the grace of God.” She says. Gloria said she was surprised. “After the workshop he visited her family,” she says. That marked the beginning of a relationship between them. In 2007, they got married.

Championing support group for women living with HIV
Gloria started her Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) treatment in 2008. “My first baby is four years,” she says. The child is HIV negative. In her opinion, the PMTCT programme is successful because it has enabled many women who are living with HIV give birth to HIV negative babies.

The staff at IHVN agrees with Gloria. She says women are responsive to PMTCT.
“We have mother-to-mother support group where they meet once a month and talk to each other,” says IHVN staff. “We have mentor-mothers. These mentor-mothers are people that have passed through PMTCT,” she adds.
For anyone to qualify to be a mentor-mother she must have adhered to antiretroviral treatment and followed all the regulatory of PMTCT services. These mentor-mothers guide younger women to adhere to treatment and live a positive life.

Gloria’s dedication to ensuring other women living with HIV have access to treatment and are given necessary support led her in 2010 to join the mother-to-mother support group initiated by Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN). She presently serves as a mentor-mother. But she says women are not as responsive to the programme as expected. “Women are not responding because they are ashamed,” she says. Most women are still ashamed about their HIV status. The support group was created to change this.

The IHVN staff says when women living with HIV enroll in the PMTCT treatment programme, that is when they are placed in a support group. “They come together on monthly basis to encourage each other,” says the official. Adding, “We also have some kind of incentive like transport that would support them to come for the meeting and learn from each other.”

Many women turn up for the group meetings when they are given incentives for attending. Gloria says some of the women are more interested in what they will be given for attending. “If they come this month, you give them something, next month if you did not give them, that is how they will be reducing,” she says.

The staff at IHVN says women living with HIV receive different types of incentives. “We give them free drugs, free test, lab investigations are free and we provide them with care and support packages,” she says.

The IHVN staff says the only thing is for the women to be encouraged to access treatment. “The services are there and available and they are free,” she says.

Gloria says she has to keep encouraging them to attend the support group whether or not they are given incentives. “The support group is helping me a lot.” Gloria says. “We have health talk. We discuss about personal hygiene and how they can take care of their [baby].” After the meeting, they visit one another to provide home-care support.

It is important for women to visit their clinic often, to know the state of their health. “My advice is that if a woman discovers she is HIV positive, she should visit the clinic. If she [visit] the clinic and started her drugs, they will tell her more, especially if she is pregnant,” Gloria says. The medical team will tell her to start her PMTCT immediately.

In addition, Gloria advice the government to provide economic empowerment programme for women living with HIV to enable them contribute positively to development of their community. “So many of them have children and they are not working,” says Gloria. “A woman needs to be economically empowered to take care of her children.”

The reporter:

Jennifer Ehidiamen is a 2013 IRP New Media Fellow for International Reporting Project (IRP). She is reporting on issues of global health and development in Nigeria.

This story was also published on HeathNewsNG.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nigerian emerge Commonwealth Youth Council Chair

By Ayokunle Oloye

A Nigerian, Ahmed Adamu has emerged the chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) at a keenly contested election.

Adamu  will chair the new body, which will be the recognised voice of the 1.2 billion young people of the Commonwealth, and a framework for youth-led development initiatives.   

Ahmed Adamu from Kastina State is a graduate of Bayero University Kano with a PhD in Economics, from Newcastle University, United Kingdom.

He is the Founder and Pioneer President, Youth Participation for Progressive Development Initiative, member, Katsina State Executive Council Committee on youth restiveness and Unemployment, December, 2011 and Secretary, Constitutional review Committee, Katsina Central Constituency, 2012.

Five other Nigerian youths were among the fifty-three candidates from 21 countries standing for nine executive posts including Chairperson, Vice Chairpersons, regional and special interests representatives of the Commonwealth Youth Council. Over the past two days at the Commonwealth Youth Forum  in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, candidates from national youth bodies across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth have been campaigning for the right to lead the CYC.

Ayokunle is a blogger @

Full Press Release below:

Commonwealth youth delegates elect inaugural Commonwealth Youth Council Executive

November 12, 2013 at 4:47pm
12 November
Following yesterday's formal establishment of the new Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC), official delegates to the 9thCommonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) today elected the Council's inaugural nine-member Executive. 
Ahmed Adamu from Nigeria will chair the new body, which will be the recognised voice of the 1.2 billion young people of the Commonwealth, and a framework for youth-led development initiatives.   
Youth leaders have invested great amounts of time and passion on the formation of a CYC constitution and structure since the concept was first mooted in 2010 and endorsed by Heads of Government in Perth, Australia, in 2011. Over the past two days at the CYF in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, candidates from national youth bodies across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth have been campaigning for the right to lead the CYC.
The inaugural Executive of the Commonwealth Youth Council, who will serve a two year term until the next CYC General Assembly in Mauritius in 2015, are:
Chairperson: Ahmed Adamu from Nigeria
Vice Chairperson (Policy, Advocacy & Projects): Sudharshana Lakshmi from India
Vice Chairperson (Partnerships & Resources): Sadham Zarjahan from Sri Lanka
Vice Chairperson (Inclusion & Engagement): Mohamed Husni from Sri Lanka
Regional Representative – Africa & Europe: Kiziah Philbert from Kenya
Regional Representative – Asia: Tharika Dileepani from Sri Lanka
Regional Representative – Caribbean & Americas: Royden Beharry from Grenada
Regional Representative – Pacific: Harry James from Solomon Islands
Representative – Special Interest Groups: Wathsala Samarakoon from Sri Lanka
With the CYC elections as an exciting backdrop, the CYF has also continued with expert presentations and policy working group sessions on the sub themes 'Gender Equality', 'Generating Quality Youth Employment' and 'Reconciliation and Social Cohesion'.  Delegates are aiming to shape national and Commonwealth agendas on topics of particular interest to young people under the theme 'Inclusive Development- Stronger Together!'. The sessions engendered lively debate and strong recommendations, which will inform the youth leaders' meeting with Heads of Government at CHOGM later in the week.
Speaking on youth employment, Ms Barbara Kasumu from Elevations Network said  
"Vocational and technical training qualifications need to be valued at the same level as traditional academic routes. Education alone does not guarantee employment outcomes and more must be done to ensure that work experience is fully integrated into a young person's learning experience."
Delegate Racheal Kalaba from Zambia, who attended the session, said
"I was very impressed with the philosophy of the young speaker Ravi Theja Muthu from India, who told us that if we can't get out of the box that restricts our entrepreneurial endeavors, then we should destroy the box and think in new ways."
At the end of a long but fruitful day, delegates took part in a cultural performance,with an amazing show of diverse traditions and talent.  The young people collaborated on a regional basis to demonstrate the CYF themes through dance, song and traditional instruments.