- Title: NIGERIA: Nigeria fights HIV/AIDS stigma and exclusion with awareness.
- Date: 29th November 2012
- Summary: IKEMBA'S FAMILY PHOTO
- Embargoed: 14th December 2012 12:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: Health,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA9CKOT4JWQY76XPPNB4S98RH06
- Story Text: For years, people who were HIV positive lived in fear of revealing their status, scared of rejection and discrimination.
But as more awareness and knowledge about the disease became available, people who are HIV positive are more open about their status.
But here in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is still a major challenge in fighting the disease.
According to Nigeria's AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the country recorded about 300,000 new HIV/AIDS infections in July, one of the heaviest caseloads in the world.
This woman, who requested for her identity to be hidden is a caregiver for an HIV/AIDS support group at the Lagos Teaching Hospital.
She was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS 13 years ago, but she has never openly shared about her status with her family and friends, saying that despite increased awareness about the disease, being HIV positive is still considered a taboo and many people believe is a death sentence.
"We have created awareness for them to understand that by working with you, you cannot really infect the people working in that place. Some of them really understand, but some of them don't understand, even doctors, not only working place, even some doctors, people don't really understand about HIV, some people don't even know anything about HIV, that's why you see every World AIDS Day, we go out to different places, to enlighten people, to talk to people, to educate them, because it's very important that we educate them, if you don't educate them, this thing they say of stigma will still continue," she said.
Nigeria has an estimated 3.3 million adults living with HIV/AIDS and about 2.5 million children have been orphaned by the disease.
Experts say fear of stigmatisation has fuelled the spread HIV, making it difficult for people to access testing, care and support services.
One of the most worrying consequences of stigmatisation for doctors, is the increasing number of pregnant women, who avoid voluntary counselling and testing which is the first step to reducing mother to child transmission.
This has led to many infected mothers passing on the virus to their children through breast-feeding.
Dr Akudo Ikemba heads the non-governmental organisation Friends Africa, which provides HIV/AIDS prevention awareness and care.
"I do understand that it can be quite, with all these baby friendly, baby friendly news and noise around town, it can be very challenging for a new mother who is HIV positive. I think in that kind of situation, one just has to work closely with those that they trust to protect the mother. I don't think she owes an explanation to the entire world. She herself is going through enough as a woman who just had a baby, and is HIV positive, and she does not have to start pretending or you know trying to breast feed the baby, she must protect her child," Ikemba said.
One of the ways the organisation is raising awareness about fighting stigma in Nigeria is using public figures like former Super Eagles football Emmanuel Babayaro, who is the organisation's Goodwill ambassador.
"The society tends to, you know, it tends to follow the trend, you know whatever the supposedly celebrities do, people tend to believe it more, so for us it's key that's why on that day, you know we will be shaking hands and hugging these people living with HIV/AIDS publicly and having pictures taken with them, you know they are going to display their goods and we will buy them. It's all our own way of letting people know that you know what, just because I'm hugging them and shaking hands with them and buying their goods doesn't mean that I'm gonna catch the disease anyways," said Babayaro.
According to a U.N report released on November 20, an end to the worldwide AIDS epidemic is in sight, mainly due to better access to drugs that can both manage and prevent the incurable human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes the disease.
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