Mrs Olayide Akanni, Executive Director, Journalist Against Aids (JAAIDS), an NGO, on Thursday in Lagos urged the Federal Government to focus on key populations when programming for HIV in the country.
Akanni made the appeal in an interview with our reporter on the sidelines of a two-day workshop for journalists organised by “The Initiative for Equal Rights’’ (TIERS), an NGO.
It was reported that the key populations include men sleeping with men (MSM) and Induced Drug Users (IDUs) among others.
She said that in spite of interventions in HIV prevention, there was still an increase in the prevalence among key populations, especially MSM.
Akanni said that the 2014 Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey, anchored by the Federal Ministry of Health, showed that HIV prevalence in MSM increased to 22.9 per cent from 17.2 percent in 2010 survey.
According to her, it is a huge challenge as majority of Nigerians who are MSM are not just only having male partners; they are also in stable married relationships with women.
“I know that in 2014, the Nigerian government passed a law, the Same Sex Prohibition Act and this criminalises MSM.
“But one of the challenges of that is, given that we are seeing a continual increase in prevalence, we now need to look critically at what are the factors causing the increase.
“Is it because of the law that people have gone into hiding and that they cannot access services as they should.
“We really need to look at things from evidenced-based information and ensure that people who are programming for HIV/AIDS take this into cognisance,’’ she said.
She noted that the risk of HIV transmission through anal sex, which was one of the practices of MSM, increased the risk of HIV infection.
According to her, anal sex has a three to four time greater risk of HIV transmission than vaginal sex because the protective layers in the anus are thinner and prone to infection than the vagina.
“So, it is important that we address these issues in our programming for HIV; we cannot continue to wish it away or assume it is not there.
“We need to take deliberate steps to ensure that we create an enabling environment whereby MSM who need to access treatment and services for HIV should be able to do so.
“That way we are able to address the issues and reduce the risk of HIV transmission; if people are on treatment, their risk of transmitting HIV to their partners are significantly reduced.
“But if they fear to access treatment, due to fear of being imprisoned or victimised, because they have come out openly to say they are MSM and have HIV then we are creating more problems for ourselves.
“And we really need to find proactive solutions to address these issues,’’ she said.
Akanni urged people to know their HIV status and be honest about it by not waiting until they were sick.
She said: “The first thing to note is that HIV is not written on anybody’s forehead and so people can move around doing their work and they are healthy and still HIV positive.
“So, given that, we know the only way to determine that the person has HIV is to first of all, do a test which is the only entry point to know whether you need to access treatment or not.
“The other important thing is that people need to educate their children and talk about these issues because children will learn from outside if we continue to feign ignorance.
“We need to create an enabling environment to educate our children and ensure that sexuality education is prioritised in our schools so that children are informed and are able to make informed decisions’’.