Whoever believes testing HIV positive is the end of the world for an
individual must be living in the world of the past.
With the proper awareness and knowledge about the ailment spreading,
there is hope that the world must have started winning the battle of
death sentence on everyone found living with the ailment or the virus
that results in it.
The celebration of the World AIDS day in the Federal Capital Territory
(FCT) this week gave a loud testimony to the reality that those living
with the virus can still lead a useful and happy life with the right
knowledge. One of the testimonies to that positive side of the HIV
scourge is the life of Mr. John Okene who tested positive together
with his wife before they had children.
For years, they have lived in this status and great enough have also
had three children, all HIV negative. Not done yet, they are expecting
a fourth and their lives have remained meaningful and full of joy with
these kids not in any way threatened by the ailment, and themselves
living with the right drugs still full of life.
Okene is robust, well dressed and with a spring in his steps. There
was nothing that gave away the fact that he is a person living with
The father of three was part of the large crowd that gathered at the
Bwari Area Council secretariat for the commemoration of the World AIDS
Day. The World AIDS Day is an annual event held on every December 1.
The 2013 global theme is 'Getting to Zero', while the Nigerian theme
is 'Take Charge: Get a HIV Test'.
Okene who can be described as a cat with nine lives, disclosed toAbuja
Metrothat he got to know his status in 2005. "I was shot by armed
robbers on my way back to Abuja from Lagos", he said. "It was during
the treatment following the attack that I was tested for HIV and the
result was positive. I told myself that I had to move on with life.
And today, I live a healthy life. I take my drugs and I don't feel
there is any difference between me and anybody else."
The man who is the chairman of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)
chapter of the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS (NEPWHAN) is
evidently living positively with the virus. Not only does he take his
drugs religiously, he also ensured that his wife benefitted from the
Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) service. All three
of his children were born HIV negative. "I give government kudos on
PMTCT services", he said. "I have three children and they are HIV
negative. My wife is scheduled to have our fourth child next month and
I am confident that the baby will also be free of HIV."
Though Okene's healthy and productive life is inspiring to
stakeholders implementing the national response to HIV/AIDS, he is
also a harbinger of the saddening news that AIDS is still a major
killer in Nigeria. According to him, a large number of Nigerians die
from complications arising from the disease. "Last year we lost 28 of
our members to the disease.
This year, five people have died", he said. Unemployment and poverty
lead as the problems that make it difficult to survive the disease.
"It is not everyone who has money to under-go cesarean operations for
child delivery like my wife did. And this helps a lot to prevent
mothers from transmitting the disease to their babies. It is the same
thing for infant formula feeding.
Most of our members cannot afford it. Though doctors promote breast
feeding among HIV positive mothers, there was a time in the FCT when
mothers were assisted with baby food. For the adults, some of them
don't have money to feed. And people on ARV need to eat good food. So
when they are starving, they hardly feel good using ARVs."
Unlike the past when the National Agency for the Control of AIDS
(NACA) held the World AIDS Day celebration at fancy venues such as the
International Conference Centre and the Eagle Square, this year it
celebrated the event in a semi-urban centre. The Bwari Area Council is
about an hour's drive from the city center.
For Okene, the move to take the important event closer to people in
the grassroots is commendable. "I am happy that this time the level of
awareness is high and like you said, I hope that beyond the World AIDS
Day, government will take HIV awareness campaign and comprehensive
treatment to the people in rural areas."
With 3.3 million Nigerians living with HIV, making Nigeria only second
to South Africa among countries with high national prevalence rates,
stakeholders posit that the national response to AIDS will be more
effective if the rural dwellers are reached.
Speaking in the same vein with Okene, the Director -General of NACA,
Professor John Idoko said that government recognised the importance
involving the rural folk in fight against AIDS. Idoko while presenting
his goodwill message said, Nigeria is making progress in the control
of AIDS. "We are happy to announce that Nigeria is indeed making
progress in the fight against HIV with a stabilized epidemic". He
however agreed that the progress made is threatened by huge resource
gaps. 'We must innovatively look inwards to seek ways of resourcing
the national response , if we must attain MDGs 2015 targets."
Idoko also acknowledged that government has to double its efforts at
promoting voluntary counselling and testing as 40 percent of Nigerians
living with virus are ignorant of their status. "If we must build on
what we have achieved we must mobilise all Nigerians to take the HIV
test to know their status ".
President Goodluck Jonathan who was represented at the event also
described voluntary counselling and testing as "the first step to a
good future", especially among the youth. Jonathan urged youths who
incidentally belong to most affected age bracket to avoid risky
behaviour. Just as he reminded guests of the federal government's
commitment to the resolution of the Abuja Plus 12 Summit held earlier
in the year, which is to eliminate AIDS in Africa by 2030, he equally
pledged a proper implementation his President Comprehensive Response
Plan for HIV and related Infective Diseases.
The two-year plan is to significantly bridge gaps in the national
response by mobilising resources to test 80 million people, treat one
million positive persons and provide PMTCT services to 250,000 women.