By ARMSTRONG ALLAHMAGANI, Bauchi –
The rate of infection of the Human Immune Virus (HIV) infection among key populations especially female sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgenders and gays in Nigeria is at an alarming rate of 38 percent, an Epidemiologist, Samuel Nwafor, has said.
NATIONAL ACCORD reports that key populations are groups who, due to specific higher-risk behaviors, are at increased risk of HIV, irrespective of the epidemic type or local context. Also, they often have legal and social issues related to their behaviors that increase their vulnerability to HIV.
Nwafor, a Technical Supporter to the University of Maryland Bauchi Group, in an interview on Sunday on the sidelines of a three-day training for collectors and enumerators on the best practices on key population size estimates which was held at the Bauchi Agency for the Control of Aids,, called for more action by the government to reduce the scourge of HIV in the country.
He said he provides services to the vulnerable population that form a block of HIV infection in Nigeria especially female sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and the transgender adding that although the activities of Lesbians, Gay, Bi-sexuals and Transgenders are criminalized in Nigeria, “but we are coming from the public health angle and that is why we are working with government agencies that have been saddled with the responsibilities to address this epidemic in Nigeria; like the Ministry of Health, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS.”
“I feel talking about these issues is important because yes, we are not promoting their acts, as government, we are looking at a way to protect the citizens, because the truth is that these people live among us, they go to the same market with us, we use the same means of transportation with them and some of them are even have relationship with those that are not in that circle.
“The current infection of HIV among them (key populations – women who have sex with men, female sex workers, transgenders and people who inject drugs) is 38 percent in Nigeria. This means that if you count 100 of them, 38 are infected with HIV.
“That has been a problem but thank God that the government is coming out now. They are citizens of Nigeria so irrespective of the fact that we are criminalizing them but we will not all die because we are criminalizing them; that is why counting them is very important, let us even know where they are, let us even know their health issues, not supporting their practice.
“While we continue behaviorial change programmes for them, their minds, sex abnormality, we also want to provide prevention approach for them at the hotspots where they would be met so that we can, first of all, reduce the prevalence of HIV and other STIs among them and again, influencing people to love and care for them hoping that their behaviour would change over time. This is the practice across every other country.
“Thank God that the government through NACA and SACA is coming up and we have done this type of workshop in 20 states in the country and we are getting positive feedback about the impact of what we are doing.”
The Acting Director, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Control at the Bauchi State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Malaria, Lumana Caleb-Sadiq, said his agency, saddled with the responsibility of coordinating all HIV related activities, has the mandate to be part of all HIV/AIDS related activities happening in the State.
“Despite the fact that Nigeria is doing very well in its intervention for HIV/ AIDS, there are still gaps. Those gaps are assisting people that don’t go to the general public health facilities and they are the key population community.
“And because they don’t go to such facilities, the government needs to go closer to them but we need to know their actual number and where they exist. When we know that, we will be able to position the type of health services that they need that can suit their own type of culture.
“Since they are part of the larger community, if we don’t stop the breeding of the infection from them, then it means we will be working and some people will be sabotaging it. This is being done to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country. In the State, the rate is 0.4 percent but we are now getting new infections that are coming from different places and this can be attributable to some aspects of livelihood that is going on.
“So, we want to go into the key population also to ensure that for them, there is no problem so that everything will go on smoothly and at the end of the day, we’ll ensure that we are HIV/AIDS free in the State. We are not encouraging them but we are trying to curtail it by stopping infections from them so that the larger community will be free,” he said.
Also speaking, the Study Manager and Technical Lead for the Key Population Size Capture and Recapture in Bauchi State, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Gabriel Obiro, said 35 participants and 10 stakeholders who were drawn from the communities and from CBOs, would be going to the field directly to engage with the communities and meet with key stakeholders and informants like the brothel owners, bunk owners, the hotel owners, bar owners and the rest, to ask questions on the locations available.