HIV/AIDS: Adolescent deaths on increase – PATA director
- Stakeholders advocate youth-friendly health services
A director of Positive Action for Treatment Access, (PATA) a rights-based non-governmental organisation, Dr. Iwalola Akin-Jimoh has raised the alarm about the increasing rate of HIV infection among adolescents in Nigeria, and called on stakeholders to work together to drastically reduce the scourge.
Welcoming participants to a stakeholder forum on “advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents living with HIV in Nigeria,” recently in Lagos, Dr. Akin-Jimoh said there was a great need for stakeholders to ensure that adolescents living with HIV have improved quality of life, improved health status and better living condition.
“It is common knowledge for us stakeholders, not only in Nigeria, that HIV infection and AIDS are increasing among adolescents and not only HIV/AIDS, many adolescents are still getting pregnant, a lot of abortions is still going on, many young people are still dying from several things related to having sex – HIV being one of them – and we have to work on them,” she said.
Speaking further, she noted that so far, the stakeholders are not doing enough to help the young ones hence, the purpose of the meeting to explore the way forward.
“Now, through the national response and other intervention by civil society organizations, 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 and 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.” Dr. Akin-Jimo said.
According to a report from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), as at 2014 the estimated number of adolescents living with HIV in Nigeria (ages 10-19) was 196,000 and 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 (15-19) newly infected with HIV in 2013 was 17, 000.
In her remarks, the UNAIDS state programme manager for Lagos, Dr. Olubunmi Asa, said winning HIV is not about resources but resourcefulness because according to her, all the stakeholders were present at the forum and for her, they can change the cause of things.
“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 confidently said.
In his keynote address, Dabesaki Ikemenjima, Mac- programme officer, Youth Opportunity and Learning Ford Foundation, pointed out that there are many possibilities for the adolescents living with HIV/AIDS.
He emphasized 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 these young ones.
“Adolescents living with HIV are growing up with limited psychosocial support; many adolescents do not know their HIV status; many parents parents/qaurdians do not inform their children/wards of their HIV status; many adolescents are lost to follow up during transitioning from paediatric to adult clinic; poorer knowledge of HIV prevention and transmission by adolescents living with HIV; stigma and discrimination against adolescents living with HIV in schools and orphanages.”
Some adolescents living with HIV/AIIDS also bared their minds on the stigmatization meted against them in the society. Three of them,Moses Igwe, Obialo James and Temitayo Oyedem expressed their difficulty in getting employment and admission. Responding to that, the UNAIDS state programme manager for Lagos Dr. Olubunmi Asa, said: “I will not be party to any institution that is demanding or making HIV status a prerequisite for giving you benefits and rights that you deserve. The world has moved on, and people are not denied employment or opportunity to enrol 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 you know your status, 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 to continue to appeal that people need to have this understanding, the world has 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, the forum recommended the following in a communiqué adopted at the end of the event:
- That state agencies for the control of AIDS (SACA) together with other stakeholders within government, international and community organizations should establish and support platforms for (ALHIV) (e.g. 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 standardized 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 organizations 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 ensure more young people know their HIV status on time and commence treatment promptly,”
HIV survivor, Mr. Ibrahim Umoru, Executive Director, Lagos State Chapter of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS however advised young people to live positively, saying HIV does not kill anybody but it opens the doors for those things that can kill.
“In order to block those doors, take your drugs as prescribed and sleep under long lasting insecticides nets,” he advised.