The occasion was the World AIDS/HIV day, marked worldwide on Tuesday, last week.Â The venue was the floor of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos,Â southwest Nigeria and the dramatis personae were the honourable members of the house.
â€¢People living with HIV/AIDS.
A member had made a remark about the rampaging Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome,Â AIDS, and its twin brother, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, saying they wereÂ spreading in the country like wild fire during the harmattan season.
In response, the Speaker, Lagos House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, disclosedÂ that HIV was rampant even in his constituency, Epe.
Speaking further on the topic to mark Worldâ€™s AIDS/HIV day, Ikuforiji admitted thatÂ the people of Epe, like other communities in Nigeria were faced with the challengesÂ of other ailments but the scourge of HIV remained the most common.
The Speaker attributed it to lack of enlightenment on the part of the residents.Â According to him, a medical doctor who just returned from overseas drew hisÂ attention to the increasing number of Epe residents infected with HIV.
The Epe-based doctor told him that after establishing a close rapport with theÂ people and they found itÂ easier to discuss with him, he discovered that the mostÂ common affliction in the area is HIV.
The doctor said about 1,000 people, both young and old, have tested HIV positive. AÂ visit to Epe did not only confirm this assertion but it was also an eye opener toÂ the challenges faced by the Lagos State government and other agencies in taming theÂ HIV scourge in Epe and its environs.
To stop the scourge, there is needÂ for thorough re-orientation. The people’sÂ hedonistic lifestyle need to be changed for good, because a carefree lifestyle canÂ only aggravate the problem. But the major challenge is: are the people ready toÂ change ?
For example, a source around Epe General Hospital who confirmed the high rate of HIVÂ infection in Epe and its environs, attributed it to high rate of poverty, ignoranceÂ on the part of the populace and outdated traditional practices.
The source who does not want his name in print said: â€œThere is high level ofÂ promiscuity among young girls in Epe. Majority of them get married at age 14, 15 orÂ 16. A young man does not need much money to woo them. Because of the prevailingÂ poverty, with little money a man will always get young girls of his taste. Most ofÂ them don’tÂ bother about education. They rarely go beyond secondary school levelÂ before they go after men and eventually get married.â€
According to the source, medical personnel often embark on awareness campaigns inÂ the area. Before HIV test is carried out, the people are counselled and thoseÂ counselled are at liberty to take the test. After the test, there is another roundÂ of counselling for the HIV positive, before they are recommended toÂ Heart to HeartÂ Centre in Epe General Hospital, for treatment.
The source further said that majority of the people still patronise traditionalÂ birth attendants and herbal practitioners. He said many residents of Epe areÂ ignorant of modern day medicine. But a lot of awareness campaigns have been ongoingÂ for the last few years for both the residents and the herbal practitioners.
The source said the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative in Nigeria, GHAIN, has beenÂ supportive in creating awareness about HIV not only in Epe but other GeneralÂ Hospitals in Lagos State.
At the Heart to Heart Centre of the Epe General Hospital, another source who doesÂ not want his name mentioned disclosed that the Alausa, Ikeja-based GHAIN could notÂ provide the centre with enough test kits.
Therefore, the available statistics cannot give accurate account of people livingÂ with HIV in the state or the area. But the source confided in Metro that an averageÂ of 50 people tested positive on a weekly basis. The source added that about 20 perÂ cent increase was noticed every week in the last six months.
Like the first source, he blamed the HIV scourge on promiscuity, high poverty levelÂ and outdated traditional practices.
â€œMost of the young people donâ€™t go far in education, most of them know little aboutÂ the disease. With N50 a young man can woo a girl with soft drink and have canalÂ knowledge of her; almost a free catch.
â€œMost construction workers along the Lagos-Lekki-Epe Expressway, from all theÂ villages and towns in the area meet inÂ Epe on weekends to catch fun. Most of themÂ engage in indiscriminate sex with young girls,” the second source said
To stop the HIV scourge, Lagos State government in collaboration with GHAINÂ organised a workshop for traditional birth attendants recently. Pregnant women areÂ also mandated to undergo HIV tests to know their status before they can beÂ registered for antenatal care. They are also enlightened that herbal practitionersÂ cannot treat or cure HIV/AIDS as many of them errorneously believed.
â€œWhen people with HIV undergo counselling, at first some of them would abscond. ButÂ when we see some of them again, we start the counselling all over again and tellÂ them the danger of their actions,â€ he said
P.M.NEWS Metro spoke to Mrs. Esther Okuntimehin, 28, a HIV positive who discoveredÂ her status in 2007 when she was pregnant and later gave birth to a set of twins,Â both boys. Most astonishing is that her husband, a civil servant, and an indigene ofÂ Epe as well as the twins are HIV negative. Esther who finished her secondaryÂ education at Okota High School, Okota near Isolo in Lagos said her parents,Â especially her dad, did not believe initially that someone could contract HIVÂ without being promiscuous. But two and a half years later, a confirmation test wasÂ carried out and the twins remained HIV negative. In fact, the twins are hale andÂ hearty and they have started their elementary education.
According to Ether, who underwent apprenticeship in tailoring and was formerlyÂ running a shop where she also sold beads and hats in Epe, the source of her HIVÂ status has remained a mystery to her.
On stigmatization, she said, â€œnobody can discriminate against me. They donâ€™t know myÂ status. I told only my husband, my father, mom (now late).Â For about three years, IÂ have not fallen sick. I take my drugs and follow my doctor’s advice.â€
Esther, the coordinator of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Epe, said her husbandÂ supports and encourages her, but she never visited herbal practitioners.
â€œI plan to have more children in future, but certainly not now. I still sleep withÂ my man but we use condom. So far so good, condom has not failed us. We use current,Â not expired ones.
â€œI also believe in prayers. I am a member of Winners Chapel in Epe. I believe I haveÂ my life to live. HIV cannot stop me. I donâ€™t believe HIV is a licence to death.
â€œI lecture members of my group. It was actually launched in 2004. From 25 members,Â we presently have 70. This year alone, 40 people joined the group. I advise peopleÂ to go for counselling, know their status and if they are positive, they should go toÂ the hospital for treatment. In my group, we have people of different age groups,Â like under 30, 40 and even over 70. We also have a few of them who are prostitutes.
â€œThis group enlightenment assignment has improved me in terms of non-formalÂ education. I have attended up to four seminar/workshops in Nigeria. The trainingÂ makes me realise I need to tackle the stigmatization against people with HIV.
“I make them understand that HIV is not the end to life but another opportunity toÂ reshape their lives and live a better life in order to face the challenges ahead ofÂ them,â€ she added.
The coordinator of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Epe could, however, not calculateÂ what she has expended on drugs. â€œAll the drugs I take are supplied free of charge byÂ the Lagos State government. I donâ€™t even come around here (Epe General Hospital)Â regularly. You are lucky to meet me here today that I have an enlightenment andÂ counselling session with members of my group,â€ the Ilaje area of Ondo State bornÂ Esther stated.