Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health

HEALTH-NIGERIA: Innovative Ways to Combat AIDS

Remi Oyo

LAGOS, Nov 12 2000 (IPS) - Innovative ways are being employed by stakeholders to control and combat the spread of HIV-AIDS which currently afflicts some 5.4 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 110 million population.

NGOs, seeking new partners to the anti-Aids campaign, recently introduced an Internet chat forum as they begin to use the new information technology to examine all issues concerning the dreaded the disease.

They are also trying to get companies ranging from large multinationals to small, private firms – to board the anti-AIDS train by establishing training programmes for their staff.

Omololu Falobi, Co-ordinator of the Nigeria-Aids Forum, managed by Journalists Against Aids, the NGO he co-founded, told IPS, “Electronic mail networking is an innovative, effective way of reaching the public with prevention information and empowerment of the citizenry with the appropriate knowledge and skills to act to stop AIDS”.

Falobi, who is also Features Editor of the Sunday Punch newspaper, said the forum “has clearly facilitated sharing and networking among AIDS activists including people living with AIDS”.

“It has also facilitated the greater involvement of civil society in the HIV-AIDS policy formulation and implementation process, ” he said.

Subscribers to the chat forum benefit from wide-ranging contributions which provide statistics and fresh insight into efforts at local and national levels on the crisis.

Sample: “The HIV-AIDS-STI situation in Nigeria is still taking an upward trend as depicted by Sentinel survey reports. There is a reported increase in prevalence from 1.8% in 1991, 3.8% in 1993, 4.5% in 1995 to 5.4% in 1999”, wrote Mike Gboun of the Federal Ministry of Health.

Gboun informed the forum that, “Youth, who are the future of Nigeria, are the worst affected group with a national median HIV prevalence of 8.4% in the age group 20-24 years”

Worse still, says Gboun, “It is estimated that within the next five years more than 4.9 million Nigerians will be infected”, unless critical steps were taken now.

The dearth of data on the disease was acknowledged by the government official. “The only available data are often duplicated, replicated and scanty due to poor funding, hoarding of research findings, lack of specific focus and lack of effective co-ordination”, he argued.

Although Internet connections are low and costs are high in Nigeria, journalist-activist Falobi asserted that the Internet can still be a ‘cheap, immediate and effective medium for networking”.

“It is an activity that a small organisation or a single individual with a PC and a vision can float and reach out to audiences near and wide”, said the journalist whose forum caters to far-flung audiences.

To date, the online forum had “succeeded in putting public health policy discussions and issues with respect to agenda setting, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and feedback, in the public arena”, he said.

“With such internet-based forums, we can and have broken the silence surrounding AIDS in our communities, but especially in the corridors of powers”, he said.

It is the belief of the award-winning journalist that the ” the media owes a duty to put policy and implementation process issues in the public arena”.

The Youth Empowerment Foundation, a Nigerian NGO is one of the users of the forum but it is involved in another innovative means of reaching those interested in AIDS.

Iwalola Akin-Jimoh, Executive Secretary of the NGO said in a telephone interview with IPS that it provides a hotline facility for all those with questions on AIDS.

Akin-Jimoh, mother of one, said the service which began on Valentine’s Day (February 14) this year receives at least five enquiries everyday.

“In the first month of the launch of the hotline service, we recorded 92 calls and the number keeps growing”.

The NGO plans to expand its reach with the provision of more telephones in a nation where less than a million people have direct access to the telecommunications, Akin-Jimoh added.

And to beat the societal stigma associated with AIDS in Nigeria, People Living With HIV-AIDS (PLWHA), have decided to form a network ” not only to enhance their livelihood through mutual support and positive living but to harness their potential for fighting and mitigating the effects of the rampaging HIV pandemic”.

According to a communique made available to IPS the network evolved at a recent meeting between PLWHAs, the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Action Committee on AIDS and Development partners in Abuja.

According to Pat Matemilola, who is the National Co-ordinator of programme, the Network will seek to “promote and advocate for the rights of PLWHA…and the co-operation of support groups within Nigeria, in our African sub- region and internationally”.

The Network will also “facilitate the involvement of PLWHA in decision making, policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes on HIV-AIDS”.

One support group, the Society for Family Health, (SFH), a Nigerian affiliate of the Family Health International, is however striving to reduce the incidence of HIV-AIDS.

Founded in 1985 by a group of Nigerians including Ifeyinwa Nzeako, a female High Court Judge and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a Professor of Paediatrics, the SFH has taken on the provision and promotion of the use of condoms for the prevention of AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD).

The Society claims to supply “an estimated 80 percent of Nigeria’s contraceptive needs by selling affordably priced condoms, oral contraceptives, injectable contraceptives and IUDs”.

Ransome-Kuti, a former Minister of Health is the eldest brother of internationally acclaimed musician Fela, who died of AIDS in August 1998.

“None of us can now afford to ignore the epidemic. Since 1995, the prevalence rate in our worst affected state has increased by more than 700 percent”, said the Professor at an event here called by SFH to enlist the support of companies and the media in combating the disease and other STDs. He did not identify the state.

Kuti offered the assistance of SFH in mounting company-specific programmes and activities to educate and inform their staff on the disease and appropriate methods for checking its spread.

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