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Many in Nigeria fighting not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also the HIV/Aids pandemic

COVID-19, with new variants emerging, the alarming rate of new infections and the steadily climbing number of deaths, seems to have put the HIV/Aids pandemic on the back burner.

But it was brought to the fore again on Wednesday, December 1, World Aids Day.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 300,000 children globally were newly infected with HIV in 2020, or one child every two minutes, and another 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes in the same period, one child every five minutes.

It warned that a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic was deepening the inequalities that had long driven the HIV epidemic, putting vulnerable children, adolescents, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at increased risk of missing life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.

RNI reporter Fatima Grema Modu spoke to an HIV-positive man, who is married and asked to remain anonymous.

“I got the disease when I left for Lagos from Maiduguri to do business and it was my girlfriend who infected me.”

He said it started with a fever and vomiting. But then he lost a lot of weight and decided to go to the clinic. The test was positive for HIV.

“When I was told I had the virus I was broken, but the doctor encouraged me and I started receiving treatment. Since then, my health has improved.”

He said no one except two friends knew he was HIV positive. He did not want people to know because of the stigma involved. He got the medicine, which was free, every three months. He had been taking antiretroviral medicine for a long time and he was healthy.

He used protection so that he would not infect his wife.

His advice to others was to go for an HIV/Aids test as soon as they suspected they might have the virus.

“Taking antiretroviral treatment is the best option for healthy living.”

“I was vaccinated against COVID-19. My health is my priority and that’s why I would advise everyone to be cautious and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Mallam Hussaini Bulama, a clinician in Bakassi, the internally displaced persons’ camp in Maiduguri, said a lot of people were infected with HIV. If they went to the clinic they were shocked to hear about it.

“Some refused to go to clinics or hospitals because they fear they might be stigmatised if others found out,” he said.

“We always conduct tests for pregnant women and invite their husbands for the test too if the need arises.”

Bulama said the clinic gave free medicine but the COVID-19 pandemic had made it more difficult to get medicines.

He said there was a special understanding between doctors and patients, which ensured no doctor would expose a patient’s secret.

Bulama said most HIV cases were related to poverty, illiteracy and ignorance which were major problems contributing to the spread of HIV.

  • On World Aids Day, UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners held a meeting to address the urgent need to end the economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities that drove the AIDS pandemic and other pandemics around the world.

“We are issuing an urgent warning. Only by moving fast to end the inequalities that drive the Aids pandemic can we overcome it,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS. “World leaders must work together urgently to tackle the challenges head-on. I urge you: be courageous in matching words with deeds. It is outrageous that every minute that passes, we lose a precious life to Aids. We don’t have time to waste.”

Avert, a British -based internationally focused charity, said current evidence suggested that people living with HIV had a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVD-19. People living with HIV who were not on treatment or virally suppressed might be at an even greater risk.

It said older people with HIV and those with underlying health conditions should take extra precautions to prevent illness.

“We are still learning about the risk of COVID-19 in people living with HIV. Current evidence suggests that people living with HIV are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill, and dying from, COVID-19, than people without HIV.”

It said: “HIV appears to be less of a risk factor than other health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, severe asthma, respiratory disease, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, dementia or old age. The best way to stay healthy is by taking your antiretroviral treatment, as well as any medication you have been prescribed for other health conditions.

“People living with HIV who have a compromised immune system should be extra cautious to prevent coronavirus infection, as they might be at an even higher risk of getting seriously ill and they are also more likely to get respiratory infections when their HIV is not well managed.”

It said people should try to stock-up their antiviral treatment or any other medication they needed to take so that they had enough for at least 30 days and preferably for three months.

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