Plateau State Trains Healthcare Workers to Combat Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission

Epidemiologist: HIV Infection Rates Among Sex Workers, LGBT Have Risen

According to Samuel Nwafo, an Epidemiologist, the current infection rate of HIV among key populations particularly female sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgenders, and men who have sex with men in Nigeria is at an alarming rate of 38 percent.

Nwafor, a Technical Supporter of the University of Maryland Bauchi Group, in an interview in Bauchi during a three-day training for collectors and enumerators on the best practices on key population size estimates, held at the Bauchi State Agency for the Control of HIV and Aids (BACATMA).

He stated 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, adding that they often have legal and social issues related to their behaviors that increase their vulnerability to HIV.

According to him, his organization 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 transgender adding that although the activities of Lesbians, Gay, Bi-Sexuals and Transgenders are criminalized in Nigeria.

“We are coming from the public health angle and that is why we are working with government agencies that have been saddled with the responsibility of addressing this epidemic in Nigeria like the Ministry of Health, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA).”

“I feel talking about these issues because it is important, 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 even have a relationship with those that are not in that circle.

“The current infection of HIV among them that are key populations compromising of women who have sex with men, female sex workers, transgenders and people who inject drug is 38 percent in Nigeria. This means that if you count 100 of them, 38 are infected with HIV.

“This 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 we will not all die because we are criminalizing them; that is why counting them is very important, let us know where they are, let us even know their health issues, not supporting their practice.

“While we continue behavioral 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 behavior 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,” he said

Also Speaking, the Acting Director, of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Control at the Bauchi State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Leprosy, and Malaria, Lumana Caleb-Sadiq, said that his agency is saddled with the responsibility of coordinating all HIV-related activities, which has the mandate to be part of all HIV/AIDS-related activities happening in the State.

“Even though Nigeria is doing very well in its intervention for HIV/ AIDS, there are still gaps. Those gaps are assisting people who 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 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 are 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.”