Improve access to HIV self-testing to prevent stigma, Researcher urges FG

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By Lucy Osuizigbo-Okechukwu

Awka, Sept. 11, 2020 Prof. Oliver Ezechi, Chief Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, Lagos, on Friday called for improved access to HIV self-testing kits to reduce stigmatisation and the burden of HIV/AIDS.

Ezechi made the call during an online training of journalists on HIV prevention research organised by the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicides Advocacy Society (NHVMAS).

According to him, HIV self-testing kits can be applied in the same manner as it is done when testing for blood pressure, blood sugar level and pregnancy test.

He said it was important for adolescents and young persons to have access to HIV self-testing kits to remove the stigma associated with going to the hospital.

“Our hospitals are not youths or adolescent friendly at all. Imagine a 17- year-old going to the hospital for HIV test and meets with an older person who stigmatises or criticises the teenager for having sex.

“Such attitude discourages adolescents from going to the hospital for HIV test; they will rather go into hiding without getting medical help.

“This is why we keep losing people to deaths occasioned HIV when they do not present themselves early for treatment.

“Issues of sexuality and sex is supposed to be private to an individual, that teenager should not be seen as a sex maniac, rather his health should be prioritised.

“This is why, it is difficult to identify these patients. Out of the 1.8 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, less than one million are on ARVs or treatment.

“For over 20 years, we have been practicing hospital testing and it is not working well due to stigmatisation.

“The only way we can achieve our target in the fight against HIV/AIDS is by incorporating HIV self-testing.

“Self-testing will encourage more people to do test and there is an online application on how to use the kits and numbers to call for counselling and treatment in case someone tests positive,” he added.

Ezechi said that HIV self-testing was one of the ways to upscale HIV testing in the country and achieve 95 per cent of detection of people who tested positive to prevent new infections and deaths.

Also, Mrs Florita Durueke, Executive Director, NHVMAS, said that sexual reproductive health for young people or adolescents should be treated as a serious matter and a matter of life and death.

Durueke called for training of hospital personnel to enhance their capacity and promote youth-friendly attitudes.

She also denied the perception that HIV self-testing promotes sex in the society.

“Whether we like it or not, people are having sex. So, what we are saying is that self-testing is a health service to help fight the high rate of HIV infection in the country,” she said.

In a recent report, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS says an estimated 51,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria died in the first two quarters of 2020.

Dr Gambo Aliyu, NACA Director-General, partly blamed the high mortality on lack of access to treatment and the disruption of medical services brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aliyu feared that the number of deaths among PLWHA might worsened, if the disruption to HIV/AIDS treatment persists for another six months.

The NACA director-general also predicted that an estimated new HIV infection in 2020, which currently stands at 48, 000, could further increase astronomically to 100,000.

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