PATA Charts Way Forward
By Chioma Umeha
Worried by the increasing death toll among adolescents living with HIV/AIDS (ALHIV) stakeholders in Nigeria ranging from government, international partners, media and civil society organisation have been urged to work in synergy in order to curb the ugly trend.
Expressing this concern were experts who gathered at a forum organised by Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA) recently in Lagos.
According to them, collaboration among stakeholders will ensure that adolescents living with HIV/AIDS have improved quality of life, health status and better living condition.
In her welcome address, Dr. Iwalola Akin-Jimoh, member, board of directors of PATA pointed that HIV infection and AIDS is on the increase among adolescents.
“It is common knowledge for we stakeholders not only in Nigeria that HIV infection and AIDS is increasing among adolescents. And not only HIV/AIDS, several things related to having sex, HIV is one of them, many people are still getting pregnant, many abortions is also going on, we have to work on them,” she said.
Speaking further, she noted that so far, the stakeholders aren’t doing enough to help the young ones hence the purpose of the meeting to strategise on the way forward: “Now through the national response and other intervention by civil society organisations, we have looked at various ways by which we can address these needs of adolescents because we are not doing enough.
“That’s why we are here today to hear from them what can we do better to address some of these issues in such a way that all the resources that have been invested over the years can have a better impact, that’s the reason we are here,” Dr. Akin-Jimoh said.
According to report from United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), as at 2014 the estimated number of adolescents living with HIV in Nigeria (ages 10-19) was 196,000.
About 11, 000 died of AIDS related cases in 2013 out of an estimated adolescent population of 38, 882,000. The estimated number of older adolescents, aged between 15 and19, newly infected with HIV in 2013 was 17, 000.
In her remarks, the UNAIDS State Programme Manager for Lagos, Dr. Olubunmi Asa, said winning against the dreaded disease is not about resources, but resourcefulness.
To her, all the stakeholders present at the forum can bring positive changes, adding for her: “HIV is no longer a death sentence, everything done so far tells us it is possible to kick out HIV by 2030 from our environment,” Asa said optimistically.
In his keynote address, DabesakiMac-Ikemenjima, Programme Officer, Youth Opportunity and Learning Ford Foundation, explained that there are many possibilities for the adolescents living with HIV/AIDS.
Ikemenjima emphasised that there’s nothing that can stop them, and therefore advised them to read their books for them to attain any level they wish irrespective of their status.
While presenting PATA’s programming for adolescents living with HIV in Nigeria, the programme officer, Francis Umoh raised many more concerns of the young ones.
“Adolescents living with HIV are growing up with limited psychosocial support; many adolescents do not know their HIV status; many parents and guardians do not inform their children/wards of their HIV status.
Other concerns are: “Many adolescents are lost to follow up during transitioning from pediatric to adult clinic; poor knowledge of HIV prevention and transmission by adolescents living with HIV.
The rest are: “Stigma and discrimination against adolescents living with HIV in schools and orphanages.”
While the adolescents bare their minds on the stigmatization meted against them, Moses Igwe, Obialo James, Temitayo Oyedem among other young people living with HIV/AIIDS expressed worries, saying that they can hardly get job or admission in to institution of higher learning.
Responding to that, the UNAIDS state programme manager for Lagos, Dr. Asa, said: “I will not be party to any institution that is demanding or making HIV status a prerequisite to giving you benefit and right that you deserve. The world has moved on, and people are not denied employment or opportunity to enroll in schools because of HIV status any more.
“In fact, knowing your HIV status is a big plus because in trying to kick out HIV the first key aspect is to ensure people know their status.
“So, when you know you are HIV positive, you know that you need to be on drugs and when you take your drugs and the viral load is suppressed, the risk of you transmitting the virus to other people becomes almost none existent.
For us it’s also important to continue appeal for people needs to have this understanding, the world have moved on from discriminatory and stigmatizing people who are living with HIV. There is a lot to gain when people come out and tell you they are HIV status than to lose,” she maintained.
However, to improve the health and quality of life of adolescent living with HIV in Nigeria, PATA has the following recommendations: “That state agencies for the control of AIDS (SACA) together with other stakeholders within government, international and community organisations should establish and support platforms for ALHIV (example support groups, annual camps etc) for sharing of experiences, psychosocial support, and to empower them in reproductive health, treatment adherence, as peer mentors and other adolescent related.
“To help keep ALHIV AIDS free, the Minister of Health and other health service providers should provide standardised adolescent and youth friendly health services in addition to working with adolescents and their care givers to tailor health services, taking the peculiar contexts of adolescents into consideration.
“Government and all stakeholders should support the implementation of sexuality education that addresses the specific needs of adolescents living with HIV. This can be done at treatment sites and by civil society organisations and networks.
“Adolescents living with HIV should be represented at relevant state and national technical working groups to ensure integration of issues affecting adolescent and young people.
“The government should have a policy against pre-admission HIV test and other forms of discrimination against adolescents and young people seeking admission into learning institutions.
“Government and all stakeholders should facilitate free comprehensive HIV treatment (no user fees, or payment of any form etc.) for adolescents and young people in all government owned sites across Nigeria. The age of consent for HIV counselling and testing and for starting HIV treatment should be reduced to 14 instead of the current 18 years. This will enable more young people to know their HIV status on time and commence treatment promptly,” Mr. Umoh enumerated.
HIV survivor, who is also the Executive Director of Lagos State Chapter of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Mr. Ibrahim Umoru, however advised the young ones to live positively. “HIV does not kill anybody, but it opens the doors for ailments that can kill. In order to block those doors, take your drugs as prescribed, sleep under long lasting insecticides nets,” he advised.
PATA is a rights-based nongovernmental organization working in partnership to ensure every individual with an illness or disease, especially women and girls have access to treatment literacy and to equitable, humane care and empowerment in Nigeria.