HIV/AIDS: The story of faith, resilience and survival

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The 90-90-90 target of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) ) is seeking to ensure that across the world, 90% of people living with HIV are diagnosed by 2020; 90% of diagnosed people are on antiretroviral treatment by 2020 and that 90% of people on treatment have their viral load fully suppressed by 2020

Forty three-year-old Garba Umar’s complete outlook belies his health status; nothing in his physical appearance suggests he is living with one of the most dreaded infectious diseases in the history of humanity.

Umar is an HIV/AIDS survivor who contracted the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while in his early 20s and has been living with the scourge for now 21 years. “I ensure I take all the prescribed precautions including taking my ARV drugs as at when due,” said Umar, a driver, who lost his first wife to the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) 18 years ago.

After losing his wife to the deadly epidemic, he joined an HIV/AIDS support group where he met and married another wife, a fellow AIDS survivor.  Years later he again married another member of the support group.

Umar lives and work in Kano, Nigeria’s second biggest city located at the heart of its northern region and that he was able to identify himself as an HIV positive and even went ahead to join an HIV/AIDS support group in as far back as the 1990s – a period when stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS was at its peak – speaks volume of his courage and extraordinary determination to survive the scourge.

Thus far, Umar’s two wives have borne him a total of 10 children (5 each) – none of which is HIV positive. “None of my 10 children is HIV positive even though my wives and I are all HIV positive. I am urging fellow HIV positive persons to come out and identify themselves so they can get treatment and ensure they don’t spread the diseases,” he advises

Zainab Suleiman is the executive director of the Community Support and Development Initiative (CSADI), an NGO providing support to people living with HIV/AIDS and which has been supporting Umar and members of his family. She says although HIV positive persons still grapple with the challenge of stigma, a lot of progress has been made in the area of combating AIDS in Nigeria.

“There is a lot of progress, when we started there was no antiretroviral drugs, and there was no donor intervention and even when donors came we had difficulties trying to get people living with HIV/AIDS to bring themselves forward,” Suleiman recalls. “Today, we have a lot of support groups for people living with AIDS which has not only helped encouraged HIV positive persons to come out and reveal their identities but also helped reduced stigma.”

“Although it’s declining but stigma and discrimination still exists even in the developed world and stigma is one of the major reasons why the disease keeps spreading as HIV positive people don’t want others to know about their status. Moreover, for cultural reasons people don’t want go for tests before marriages which also brings about further spread of the disease.”

Suleiman says her nonprofit and other support groups for people living with HIV across Nigeria have over the years helped organized marriages among HIV positive persons as well as provide them with counseling on preventing mother to child transmission (PMTCT) which has helped people like Umar and his wives give birth to children that are HIV negative – although they are all positive.

Alawiyya Ali, 39, is another HIV survivor who has also been living with AIDS for over a decade and has been on antiretroviral therapy (ARVs) for the past 11 years. She lost her former husband to the contagious disease, and who left her with 3 children all of whom are HIV negative but for which she is struggling to cater.

“I ensure I take all necessary precautions,” she said. “I am now married and living a healthy life with my kids, I don’t feel any pains anymore. I urge other women who are positive to begin going to the hospital as soon they become pregnant so they can get advised on how to protect their unborn children from being infected.”

Alawiyya has recently been trained as a volunteer caregiver for HIV positive women by an NGO, the Global Improvement of Less Privileged Persons (GIOPINI) and was about to be formally engaged as a volunteer when the NGO’s funders, Save the Children, asked them to disengage Alawiyya alongside her fellow trainees “until further notice.”

“I have just started working with GIOPINI when they were asked not to engage us, like me, most of my colleagues have orphan children and we are responsible for paying for their school fees. Now, I can’t afford to take care their needs including paying for their school fees,” she laments.

Mohammed Mashi, the executive director of GIOPINI says after screening and training Alawiyya and 300 others they got an ‘order’ from their funders, the USAID funded Systems Transformed for Enhancing Enabling Responses (STEER) project of Save the Children, not to engage them.

“We have promised to work with the women since they are also HIV positive and therefore calling on Save the Children to give us the go ahead to bring them on board which will help make our work easier, since it’s easier for HIV positive women to work with fellow HIV positive women,” says Mashi

Although Nigeria has thus far recorded a significant success in terms of combating HIV/AIDS in terms of number of incidences being recorded and at the moment over 750, 000 HIV positive Nigerians are on treatment, there is still slow uptake of testing among the youth which has led to recent increase in burden among young people across the country and a slow response in terms of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of AIDS.

“Everyone that ought to be on treatment should be on treatment; therefore, there is need for youth friendly services so that more youth can get tested and those that are infected will also get treated, which will help bring down the burden among them,” says Ibrahim Murtala of the Society for Family Health (SFH), a leading Nigerian NGO working in the area of health.

“There has been a slow response in terms of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT). There is also a limited number of facilities for testing children because facilities required for testing children are different from those for testing adults hence the need for more investment in that area as well.”

The 90-90-90 target of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) is seeking to ensure that across the world, 90% of people living with HIV are diagnosed by 2020; 90% of diagnosed people are on antiretroviral treatment by 2020 and that 90% of people on treatment have their viral load fully suppressed by 2020.

As well, goal 3 of the ambitious 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development is seeking to bring to an end the AIDS epidemic in all countries of the world, by the year 2030.

“If we are able to pursue this religiously, by 2030, we should be able to eliminate HIV/AIDS from Nigeria, which is also in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” says Murtala.

 

 

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