SOME persons living with HIV/AIDS in Cross River State have said they were proud because they live with the virus without infecting their children, other family members and the general public.
The survivors spoke with journalists recently in Calabar, the state capital, at a Three-day Workshop to Reinvigorate and Produce a Work Plan for Members of the Journalists’ Alliance for the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (JAPiN).
The workshop was organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
The survivors pleaded that their identities be not disclosed because of the stigma associated with the virus in Nigeria.
One of the survivors said she was proud to have lived with the virus for years without infecting her only daughter and other relations.
She had had a broken marriage before contracting the disease, and a suitor sought her hands in marriage shortly after her first wedding crumpled.
The man lived outside Nigeria and wanted her to join him abroad.
But the tests carried out in the course of getting her travel documents showed she had HIV.
The man cut off all communications with her after receiving the news.
Eight years after, Mary said she had ensured she infected nobody with the virus and had moved on with her life.
The only daughter she got from her failed marriage is 23, and she hopes to be a grandmother in a few years.
“I am pleased to have a child who is negative,” she said.
The only regret she has is that her family wrote a compulsory resignation letter to the public school where she worked when she was very sick to ensure the government did not sack her for staying too long out of work. She was ill for about three years at the time, she stated.
“They did not get my permission to do so, and all efforts I have made to return to work have failed,” she said.
She has been taking her medication as prescribed. She said the drugs are available for people with the virus in the state.
Another survivor worked as a community health worker before contracting the virus. She said she went to a community in Cross River, and the needle she used on one of her patients pricked her. Unknown to her, the patient from Cameroun was HIV positive.
It took her six months to realise that she had contracted the disease. She was very sick and was rushed down to Calabar before the test showed she had the virus. She developed tuberculosis during the period.
It was from then onward she began to take medication. She has since given birth to children who are negative because she followed her caregivers’ counsels.
She said with spousal disclosure, people living with the virus would not only succeed in not infecting others but their babies too.
She currently works with FHI 360 as a volunteer in the state.
A 64-year-old is among the survivors. She was diagnosed with the virus in 2010.
She consequently resigned from the public hospital where she worked as a cook in the state to join her husband, who had retired from public civil and lived on pension at home.
She lost her husband last year, but she is proud that neither her husband nor her five children have the virus.
However, as health workers advised, the woman could not eat certain foods, especially too much carbohydrates.
She eats more vegetables, fish, chicken, snail, periwinkle and plantain.
She takes her drug as prescribed, and she has been living fine. As a counsellor, she has overcome the challenge of discrimination, she said.
Another survivor said she contracted the virus from hair fixing and not from sexual intercourse.
She told her spouse shortly after she contracted the disease.
Though the husband took the news with sadness, the disclosure has since helped her raise two children who are negative to the disease, sustain her marriage, and remain alive and healthy.
“I take my medication as prescribed, and the drugs are always available at the clinic.”
The drugs are free, she said.
She urged the public to get tested for the disease to enable them to live a fulfilled life.
“HIV is not a deadly disease. If you take your drugs, you will live long. People are dying every day from malaria, typhoid, cancer, diabetes and other diseases. Are we not taking the same drugs? But we take our drugs and live strong and healthy. We go anywhere we feel like going.”
A graduate of the University of Calabar, she is a Case Manager for FHI 360.
She said stigma remained the biggest challenge to HIV in the country.
All the survivors cautioned Nigerians against engaging in any habit that could result in the spread of the virus.
In his presentation at the workshop titled: “Overcoming Barriers towards Elimination of MTCT of HIV,” Assistant Director National PMTCT Lead, National AIDS and STIs Control Program (NASCP) in the Federal Ministry of Health, Ijaodola Olugbenga, a medical doctor, said the ministry was committed to the attainment of the global goal of Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (e-MTCT) and Zero new HIV infections.
He listed some PMTCT challenges to include poor access to public facilities, adding that PMTCT services reached only about a third of pregnant women in the country.
He said many states were yet to respond to the provision of adequate funding for HIV programmes, including PMTCT.
He expressed worry that data gathering remained a challenge for the ministry, as, according to him, many pregnant women prefer patronising traditional birth attendants to formal health facilities.
He said the attitude would result in poor antenatal care and low pediatric HIV case identification, and poor linkage to care and treatment for children living with HIV.
“Maternal and child health is critical to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Three out of four pregnant women in Nigeria are not captured at antennal care, while 63 per cent HIV positive women do not access PMTCT services,” he stated.
According to him, the mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV is high as 22 per cent, and the country contributes 22,000 new HIV infections among children.
Speaking on the topic: “Managing Children and Adolescents Living with HIV” at the workshop, Chief Consultant/Associate Professor, Paediatric Respiratory/Infectious Diseases, University of Calabar/Teaching Hospital, Atana Ewa said HIV/AIDS remained a major cause of infant and childhood mortality and morbidity in Africa.
Ewa quoted the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), which showed that 1.9 million people lived with HIV in the country.
She said out of the global estimate of 37.9 million, 1.8 million children under 15 lived with the virus.
“The incidence of HIV in 2018 was estimated at eight per 10,000 persons (in Nigeria)”, she noted.
According to her, heterosexual sex still accounts for the majority of transmissions of the virus in Nigeria.
She urged all pregnant women to access antenatal care at facilities that could test them for the virus.
While calling for increased spousal disclosure on the disease, she appealed to people living with the virus to heed counsel offered by health care providers.
UNAIDS notes in a report that Nigeria accounts for 24 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV worldwide who are not on antiretroviral therapy and is the largest contributor among the seven countries that account for half of all new HIV infections among children globally.
“One in every seven babies born with HIV in the world is a Nigerian baby. Because of this, there is an urgent need to scale up sustainable programmes for the elimination of vertical transmission of HIV in the country, and the government has committed to ending vertical transmission by the end of 2022.”
The National Agency for the Control of AIDS coordinates HIV programmes in the country.