Like in 2020, UNAIDS has again pronounced Nigeria as country with highest producer of HIV-positive children. Just how does such negative situation persist despite the availability of free drugs, information and strategic interventions being put in place? Gboyega Alaka writes?
The revelation a couple of weeks back that Nigeria is highest producer of HIV positive children globally by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV\AIDS (UNAIDS), without doubt called for concern. With the availability of information and efforts being put in place by governments and non-government organisations alike, many cannot understand why the country still occupy such unenviable position in the committee of nations.
The UNAIDS noted that while the country has achieved a lot in placing over 1.6 million people living with the virus on treatment, more children are still left out of the lifesaving treatment.
The UNAIDS apparently based its submission on a federal government data that says about 150,000 children are HIV positive, with only 88,000 on treatment. That unfortunately leaves a whopping 62,000 children without treatment and staring death in the face.
This, according to the Country Director, Dr Erasmus Morah, means the coverage for children is less than 50 per cent, and of course robs off negatively on the achievement of 80 per cent coverage of adult and places Nigeria in that unenviable position. Morah also declared that “one in seven babies born globally with HIV is a Nigerian.”
Heavy as it sounded, the UNAIDS’ declaration did not come as ‘news’, only that it still shocked the sensibilities of well-meaning Nigerians. Early 2020, the then Minister of State for Health, Olorunimbe Mamora, had revealed that Nigeria has the highest number of paediatric HIV cases globally.
Bleak future for the kids
The implication of this revelation for kids still brought to the world with this dreaded disease is that they are condemned to a bleak and uncertain future. For no fault of theirs, they inherited the incurable virus from their mothers and are compelled to live with it, subjected to all forms of discrimination and a life of endless regimented medication. But how do mothers still transmit this virus to their babies despite intensified government efforts at prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT)?
Kunle Badmus (not real name), 17, who lives with the virus, offers one possible explanation.
“I was told I got it from my mum’s breast milk; mum is late now by the way,” he said with a smirk.
If he escaped the virus during delivery, how then did he get it through his mum’s breast milk? To this Badmus simply slapped the back of his right hand in his left palm, which literally implied ‘I don’t know.’
His grandmother, whom he grew up with never gave him any more details; but he has borne the brunt of the disease, visiting hospitals to collect and down “awfully smelling drugs,” without which they told him, he’d literally wither like fallen leaves and die.
Earlier, when he attempted revolting against the drugs, he said his alarmed grandmother would scream and hang the threat of death over him like a hangman’s noose. When that stopped working, Badmus said she started showing him pictures of emaciated people who had come down with full blown AIDs and eventually died, literally screaming, “DO YOU WANT TO LOOK LIKE THIS?”
“I think that got me,” the young man just out of secondary school, confessed.
Even though he had become despondent, even suicidal; he didn’t want to look like that before breathing his last.
While many young people who got the virus through their mothers did during delivery, many, like Badmus actually did through breastfeeding, defeating all the PMTCT effort of the government and health workers. A case in point would be that told by a doctor in one of the enlightenment sessions in Lagos years back, where a young HIV-positive mother who had managed to bring forth her son without the virus, budged at the insistence of her in-laws who weren’t aware of her HIV-positive status and gave her wailing baby her breast to suckle.
“The baby was crying inconsolably and her in-laws who had come to do the traditional ‘omugwo’ pressured her to give the baby breast. Not even her excuse that the doctor said she could not breastfeed, stopped them. The illiterate in-laws stepped up the pressure, telling her ‘which doctor go say make you no give your pikin breast? I beg give baby boby joo.’ Perplexed and especially with her husband not physically present, she capitulated and gave the kid her breast.
“She regrets it till today and still weeps for her inability to resist,” the doctor said.
“Do not fall into that category,” he warned his listening audience.
Another, Philip (not real name), now 25, who eventually got to know the truth about his status at the age of 15, said “I didn’t even understand the concept but they told me I could die if I didn’t take the drugs. My parents simply told me I inherited it from them and that I would understand it better as I grew up. They however advised me strictly against sex and told me not to tell anyone as they would look down on me. They didn’t exactly use the word ‘discrimination’, but I understood them well.