Increasing AIDs/ HIV Scourge In Epe, Lagos State

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The occasion was the World AIDS/HIV day, marked worldwide on Tuesday, last week.  The venue was the floor of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos,  southwest Nigeria and the dramatis personae were the honourable members of the house.

•People living with HIV/AIDS.

A member had made a remark about the rampaging Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome,  AIDS, and its twin brother, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, saying they were  spreading in the country like wild fire during the harmattan season.

In response, the Speaker, Lagos House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, disclosed  that HIV was rampant even in his constituency, Epe.

Speaking further on the topic to mark World’s AIDS/HIV day, Ikuforiji admitted that  the people of Epe, like other communities in Nigeria were faced with the challenges  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.  According to him, a medical doctor who just returned from overseas drew his  attention to the increasing number of Epe residents infected with HIV.

The Epe-based doctor told him that after establishing a close rapport with the  people and they found it  easier to discuss with him, he discovered that the most  common affliction in the area is HIV.

The doctor said about 1,000 people, both young and old, have tested HIV positive. A  visit to Epe did not only confirm this assertion but it was also an eye opener to  the challenges faced by the Lagos State government and other agencies in taming the  HIV scourge in Epe and its environs.

To stop the scourge, there is need  for thorough re-orientation. The people’s  hedonistic lifestyle need to be changed for good, because a carefree lifestyle can  only aggravate the problem. But the major challenge is: are the people ready to  change ?

For example, a source around Epe General Hospital who confirmed the high rate of HIV  infection in Epe and its environs, attributed it to high rate of poverty, ignorance  on the part of the populace and outdated traditional practices.

The source who does not want his name in print said: “There is high level of  promiscuity among young girls in Epe. Majority of them get married at age 14, 15 or  16. A young man does not need much money to woo them. Because of the prevailing  poverty, with little money a man will always get young girls of his taste. Most of  them don’t  bother about education. They rarely go beyond secondary school level  before they go after men and eventually get married.”

According to the source, medical personnel often embark on awareness campaigns in  the area. Before HIV test is carried out, the people are counselled and those  counselled are at liberty to take the test. After the test, there is another round  of counselling for the HIV positive, before they are recommended to  Heart to Heart  Centre in Epe General Hospital, for treatment.

The source further said that majority of the people still patronise traditional  birth attendants and herbal practitioners. He said many residents of Epe are  ignorant of modern day medicine. But a lot of awareness campaigns have been ongoing  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 been  supportive in creating awareness about HIV not only in Epe but other General  Hospitals in Lagos State.

At the Heart to Heart Centre of the Epe General Hospital, another source who does  not want his name mentioned disclosed that the Alausa, Ikeja-based GHAIN could not  provide the centre with enough test kits.

Therefore, the available statistics cannot give accurate account of people living  with HIV in the state or the area. But the source confided in Metro that an average  of 50 people tested positive on a weekly basis. The source added that about 20 per  cent increase was noticed every week in the last six months.

Like the first source, he blamed the HIV scourge on promiscuity, high poverty level  and outdated traditional practices.

“Most of the young people don’t go far in education, most of them know little about  the disease. With N50 a young man can woo a girl with soft drink and have canal  knowledge of her; almost a free catch.

“Most construction workers along the Lagos-Lekki-Epe Expressway, from all the  villages and towns in the area meet in  Epe on weekends to catch fun. Most of them  engage in indiscriminate sex with young girls,” the second source said

To stop the HIV scourge, Lagos State government in collaboration with GHAIN  organised a workshop for traditional birth attendants recently. Pregnant women are  also mandated to undergo HIV tests to know their status before they can be  registered for antenatal care. They are also enlightened that herbal practitioners  cannot treat or cure HIV/AIDS as many of them errorneously believed.

“When people with HIV undergo counselling, at first some of them would abscond. But  when we see some of them again, we start the counselling all over again and tell  them the danger of their actions,” he said

P.M.NEWS Metro spoke to Mrs. Esther Okuntimehin, 28, a HIV positive who discovered  her status in 2007 when she was pregnant and later gave birth to a set of twins,  both boys. Most astonishing is that her husband, a civil servant, and an indigene of  Epe as well as the twins are HIV negative. Esther who finished her secondary  education at Okota High School, Okota near Isolo in Lagos said her parents,  especially her dad, did not believe initially that someone could contract HIV  without being promiscuous. But two and a half years later, a confirmation test was  carried out and the twins remained HIV negative. In fact, the twins are hale and  hearty and they have started their elementary education.

According to Ether, who underwent apprenticeship in tailoring and was formerly  running a shop where she also sold beads and hats in Epe, the source of her HIV  status has remained a mystery to her.

On stigmatization, she said, “nobody can discriminate against me. They don’t know my  status. I told only my husband, my father, mom (now late).  For about three years, I  have not fallen sick. I take my drugs and follow my doctor’s advice.”

Esther, the coordinator of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Epe, said her husband  supports and encourages her, but she never visited herbal practitioners.

“I plan to have more children in future, but certainly not now. I still sleep with  my man but we use condom. So far so good, condom has not failed us. We use current,  not expired ones.

“I also believe in prayers. I am a member of Winners Chapel in Epe. I believe I have  my life to live. HIV cannot stop me. I don’t believe HIV is a licence to death.

“I lecture members of my group. It was actually launched in 2004. From 25 members,  we presently have 70. This year alone, 40 people joined the group. I advise people  to go for counselling, know their status and if they are positive, they should go to  the hospital for treatment. In my group, we have people of different age groups,  like under 30, 40 and even over 70. We also have a few of them who are prostitutes.

“This group enlightenment assignment has improved me in terms of non-formal  education. I have attended up to four seminar/workshops in Nigeria. The training  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 to  reshape their lives and live a better life in order to face the challenges ahead of  them,” she added.

The coordinator of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Epe could, however, not calculate  what she has expended on drugs. “All the drugs I take are supplied free of charge by  the Lagos State government. I don’t even come around here (Epe General Hospital)  regularly. You are lucky to meet me here today that I have an enlightenment and  counselling session with members of my group,” the Ilaje area of Ondo State born  Esther stated.

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