I have been living with HIV virus in the past 15 years. Even though I look healthy and strong following my consistent medication of the Anti Retroviral Drugs, living with the sickness has not been fun. I face stigmatisation and rejection in my community.
“the nurses in the community health facility where i go to receive drugs always have a way of passing the news round to the community. They have a language coded name by which they refer to us.
“My two children who are not HIV positive are not left out in the stigmatisation. No one want to associate with them even in school”.
This was the pathetic tale of a 35 year old Ada Adejoh, from Ogbadigbo local government area of Benue State. She said that even though she has accepted her fate, the environment has not been fair to her and her two children following the rejection they go through on a daily basis.
Also, Antonia Valem was 12 years old when she told her best friend that she has HIV. She’s had the virus since birth. Her mother unknowingly contracted it from her father, who eventually left the family.
“I didn’t really fully understand what exactly I was telling my friend at the time,” Valem now a college student, told me.
“I didn’t really understand what having this disease could mean until after I started getting the reactions from other people”.
Those reactions were devastating. Valem’s admission quickly spread through her school. Her schoolmates even her friends responded by mocking and ostracizing her.
They refused to use the water fountain after her afraid they’d get the disease, too. She was beaten up, humiliated and called names.
Just like Valem’s story, more than one in three Nigerians holds at least one wrong belief about HIV transmission. “For me, that was bad,” Valem said. “This was someone I thought I could go to.”
The last straw came when a soccer coach at the school asked Valem about her health condition in front of the entire team.
“My mom confronted my coach,” Valem said.
“The coach made a joke to my mom that the team could use my HIV status to our advantage, because the players on the other team would be scared to touch me, and I could score goals.”
Her parents eventually withdrew her from the school and was homeschooled until college.
“It was really hard, because I was so involved. I did show choir, soccer, and all that,” she said. “So homeschooling for me was really hard, but it was something I had to do because the bullying got so bad.”
Misconceptions about HIV
Valem’s experiences aren’t unique. many of the about 1.2 million people living with HIV in Nigeria today especially in the rural areas face similar cruelty and misunderstanding from their communities.
After people were diagnosed, they quickly learned that proper medication can make the disease less deadly and more difficult to transmit.
Indeed, HIV isn’t the death sentence it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. The age-adjusted death rate among people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS dropped by 93 percent between 1987 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A large part of that, the CDC explains, is attributable to the development of highly effective antiretroviral medication.
The big problem for these HIV-positive people instead came through the stigma attached to the disease.
Three decades after the rise of HIV, many misunderstandings attached to the disease remain from misconceptions about whom it affects to confusion about how it’s actually transmitted.
Nigeria is home to one of the fast- growing and potentially massive HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world. Even though the government and other Non governmental organisation has tried to address the problem alot still need to be done.
There is widespread belief that high-risk individuals-drug users and commercial sex workers-got what they deserved.
Recent surveys in Moscow-where there is a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS and greater access to information than in many parts of the country-revealed that more than half of those responding believe that one can be infected by drinking from the same glass as an HIV-positive person.
Even more alarming, nearly half of the respondents believe that HIV-positive people should be isolated from society.It is against this backdrop that a growing number of HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers must make a very difficult choice: whether or not to keep their children.
Shunned by society, these women are vulnerable to discrimination on many fronts: access to health care, employment and education. Many are dependent on drugs and have no access to rehabilitation programs. Still others are living on the brink of poverty.
With little or no means to provide for themselves, many find overwhelming the burden of caring for a child to whom the disease may have been transmitted and who would face the same stigma; these mothers may choose instead to abandon their babies.
While Nigeria HIV/AIDS crisis has received widespread international attention, this particular aspect of the crisis-abandoned children of HIV-positive mothers-still remains hidden behind closed doors.
Compared to such tragic cases, the fate of children born to HIV-positive parents who live at home is a happier one. But their integration into society is far from trouble-free. By the time they reach eighteen months doctors confirm whether they are HIV-positive or negative.
If they inherit the virus from their parents, the same fear that keeps many abandoned children stowed away in hospitals may restrict them from entering kindergarten and elementary school.
Indeed, some day care centers or educational facilities may even be reluctant to accept a child even if it is the parents-not the child-who are HIV-positive.
Such discrimination is not only contrary to the Nigeria laws , but to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stresses that states take all appropriate measures to ensure that children are protected from discrimination.
Despite international and national standards that are supposed to protect the children of HIV-positive women, the Nigerian government is failing lamentably in its obligation to implement these standards.
In the meantime, their parents may have to deal with belligerent doctors who refuse to treat them. Refusing medical assistance and entry into an educational institution for someone who is HIV-positive may be banned by the laws of the land but many people living with HIV/AIDS are so frightened of revealing their status that they would rather suffer the consequences of discrimination than stand up for their rights.