Managing HIV/AIDS Among Females In Nigerian Law School
Various forms of activities by different organizations in the private and public sectors took place in different quarters of the country to mark this year’s World AIDS Day tagged “Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise”. Of particular interest was the seminar on fight against HIV / AIDS with a special focus on women and children as well as physically challenged people living with the virus at the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja. The World AIDS Day was established in 1998 by WHO to focus global attention on HIV AND AIDS. It expresses belief that the campaign could significantly help to accomplish the important task of promoting access to HIV treatment with a view to arresting the epidemic.
It is necessary to recall here that the HIV pandemic in Nigeria started in the 1980s with the first AIDS case reported in 1986. Nigeria is currently experiencing a generalized epidemic with states’ HIV prevalence persistently above 1% in women attending antenatal clinics. About 40million people in the world are living with the Human Immune Acquired Deficiency Syndrome Virus–HIV. About four million people are estimated to be living with it in Nigeria. The figure increases by the day.
To strengthen the response to the epidemic, the Presidential Council on AIDS as well as the National, State, and FCT Action Committee(s) on AIDS (NACA, SACA, and FACA) were established in 2000. The bodies have facilitated a co-coordinated response through provision of comprehensive prevention and care services within the context of the HIV/AIDS Emergency Action Plan (HEAP), HIV/AIDS Health Sector Plan and National Strategic Framework (NSDF).
A survey in 2005 was carried out to determine HIV prevalence among females among others. The prevalence among women 15-49 years and young women 15-24 years is on the decline. However, there seems to be an upward trend of feminization of the disease. For instance, the more than 900 students of the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja, who gathered at the main auditorium of the school in the one-day programme to create awareness on the disease among students and staff were not happy because Phenodom (the rubber sheet worn by females for protection against HIV/AIDS during sexual intercourse) was not distributed to them the same way condom was distributed.
According to the technical partner to Jeolinks Global Services, organizer of the seminar in collaboration with the FCT Action Committee on AIDS and the Nigerian Law School, Dr Orduwa Eze Samuel, the inadequacy was due to the high cost of the purchase of the female condoms and not meant to deliberately discriminate against women stating that condoms may go as low as N10 while that of women (phenodom) may cost as high as N500. He however stressed that efforts were being made by government to bring down the price in order to make it affordable.
Dr Orduwa noted that, the AIDS pandemic is growing in all areas of the country with worrisome signs of resurgence in some states where successes in combating the disease were thought to have been achieved. He observed that the prevalence of HIV among youths is highest among some middle-belt and south-south states such as Benue and Akwa-Ibom States as well as their adjoining States.
In his view, FCT is among the first five states with high prevalence coming only after Enugu and Anambra States. He therefore urged the Law School students to avail themselves of the opportunity to be adequately informed so as to become change agents in passing the message to “Stop AIDS and Keep the Promise”.
The Director General of Nigerian Law School Bwari, Dr. Tahir Mamman, in his remarks, expressed support for the initiative by Jeolinks Global Services and Dr. Orduwa the organizers of the seminar. He commended them for the opportunity to enlighten the staff and students of the institution on the dreaded disease HIV/AIDS. The DG also appreciated the information and statistics revealed at the Seminar saying that since prevalence cases are higher among females between ages 15-49 the occasion calls for sober reflection, more positive action and change of attitude in the way the students live their lives .
The highpoint of the event was the lecture on positive living by Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Labor and Productivity who is also a Consultant to UNDP, Mr. Paul Okwulehie. He urged the Law School students to be mindful of cases of incidence and reduce concentration on prevalence saying that if the students are negative, they have no business being infected at all.
The observance of World AIDS Day in the Nigerian Law School will have a special meaning for Mrs. Linda Omeka, Co-ordinator, Organization for Positive Living, an NGO for PLWHA. Mrs. Omeka was a resource person who gave testimony to the fact one can still live a fulfilling live though that one may test positive to the virus. She talked on Positive Living and even brought her healthy daughter of about 2 years for everyone to see. When asked how she was able to do it, she advised that the students should avail themselves of the Voluntary Counseling Test (VCT) because it allows newly infected persons to enter into clinical care. She urged that people should not avoid or ignore VCT due to fear of the outcome of the test and stigmatization for testing positive. The lady who got married after she had long contracted the virus said that living with HIV does not mean a person is a victim; rather the person needs care, support and love. Mrs. Omeka lives with her husband and daughter who are both negative.
The seminar also showcased drama presentation, stand-up comedy and poem recitation by the HIV Committee of the school constituted to act as catalyst to the campaign and reduce the incidence of the dreaded disease in the Campus. At the end, participants at the seminar agreed that the current care and support activities especially the antiretroviral programme and distribution of condoms should be scaled up while the distribution of the female latex – Phenodom – be commenced to meet the increasing needs of the large number of estimated cases of AIDS in the country.
There is also the need to increase intervention efforts in the rural areas. The high level of prevalence among women and children calls for focused and appropriated interventions.
National Press Centre, Abuja, December 2006