Alarming rate of HIV/AIDS in Ondo

By Saheed Ibrahim

Nigeria ranks in the top four among countries with the highest burden of people living with HIV and the highest HIV burden in the West and Central African sub-region. The country has an estimated 1.9 million people living with HIV (PLHIV).

A report from the Ondo State Action Committee on AIDS (ODSACA) shows that as of January 21, 2024, the estimated number of people living with HIV in Ondo is 26,836, with 22,273 under treatment. This means there are 4,563 PLHIV not currently receiving treatment.

With the current sexual behaviour of people, the number of PLHIV and other sexually transmitted diseases might increase. HIV is primarily transmitted through the exchange of body fluids, which can occur through unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment.

Recent data shows that 80 percent of new HIV infections are caused by unprotected heterosexual intercourse, and most infections are found in key populations such as sex workers, gays, and people who inject drugs.

Casual Sex Despite Multiple Partners

On November 23, last year, a survey was conducted among adult men in Akure. The purpose of the survey was to assess the sexual behaviour of the participants and their opinions on sexual and reproductive health. There were 49 participants with an average age of 24 years.

Our findings revealed that only two of the men were married at that time. Over 80 percent of them had more than one sexual partners, and only two of them used condom the last time they had sexual intercourse with their partner(s).

The statistics among these men can be said to represent the reality of sexual behaviour among men, especially the young ones. With extremely low safe sex practices among men and over 80 percent having more than one sexual partner, caution has been disregarded.

Kike and Her Friends

After the survey among the 49 men, I wanted to know the trend among ladies, especially those involved in hookups and other forms of commercial sex. I consulted Kike (real name withheld). I first met Kike when I was working on a report in 2022 about teenage prostitution. She plies her trade in the Alagbaka area, where you find ladies involved in commercial sex at night.

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I set up a meeting with her and two of her friends. Upon inquiry, Kike revealed her charges are dependent on the customer, time spent, and mode of intimacy.

“Young guys do not pay as much as older men do, especially married men. They pay better than the boys, and the older men do not even stress you. If my service is for a short time, your pay will be less than if you want me overnight,” she explained.

Regarding the mode of intimacy, her revelation shows that some commercial workers disregard caution when their customers offer higher pay. Kike revealed that some customers do not like using protection (condoms).

“I have some selected ones I have ‘raw’ sex with, and they pay well. Men do not like using condoms, to be honest,” she said. “I am not sure if ladies do either, but we just use them to protect ourselves,” she added.

Her two friends also corroborated her story. Findings showed that while the ladies are aware of the need to use condoms before having intercourse with their customers, they may let their guard down if the customers are paying more, exposing them to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other infections.

PLHIV Desert Treatment for Spiritual Remedies

In one of the cases briefed by a source at one of the organizations in charge of testing and treating people infected with HIV, a couple who were confirmed positive refused to be registered for counseling and treatment. Instead, they embraced church and holy water.

The source confirmed that efforts to convince the couple to start treatment to prevent the virus from progressing into AIDS proved abortive, adding that there have been other similar cases where infected people refused treatment but seek spiritual or traditional remedies.

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The ODSACA Coordinator confirmed that there have been cases of PLHIV deserting treatment.

Troubling Times

The recent economic downturn in Nigeria will worsen health crises in the country and increase the number of people with sexually transmitted diseases, according to Morayo Itiolu, a public health professional.

Itiolu explained that the rate of ladies and women going into prostitution is becoming alarming every day due to economic frustration and the need to make ends meet.

The Health Lead of YALI Network, Ondo State added that many young girls, even those in secondary schools, have taken up prostitution or casual sex as a way of making money.

“Many young people have also taken up drug abuse and substance injection as a sport. This is troubling. People injecting drugs are also at risk of contracting the virus if they share syringes with members of their groups,” she explained.

According to the UNODC, nine percent of people who inject drugs live with HIV/AIDS, a figure much higher than the 1.4 percent prevalence rate among the general population.

Our investigation also showed that the price of condoms has increased due to the hyperinflation rate in the country. This, Itiolu explained, can lead to low access to safe sex, an increase in risky sexual behaviour and consequently spread of the virus.

Way Forward

Dr. Adegbulu revealed that Ondo State has achieved 95 percent viral load suppression. This indicates that proper treatment can reduce the viral load of the disease among PLHIV. While noting that there is no permanent cure yet, he suggested that people infected with the virus must take their drugs as expected.

He also advised members of the public to get tested and know their HIV status, live responsibly, and use condoms when having sexual intercourse with multiple partners.

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Emmanuel Adamolekun, an HIV Prevention Advocate, explained that the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) can reduce the chance of getting HIV from sex when taken as prescribed.

He expressed concern that Nigeria has not adopted a comprehensive HIV prevention toolkit. He mentioned that aside from advocacy, other tools like the microbicide ring, which has drugs attached to it, can be used.

He noted that homosexuals in the country find it difficult to come out and seek sexual and reproductive healthcare due to discrimination, as homosexuality is regarded as a crime in the country. Hence, “this contributes to the prevalence of the virus,” he added.

He suggested that Nigeria must adopt a comprehensive HIV prevention toolkit that will encourage people, irrespective of their sexual orientation and age, to seek medical services without discrimination.

Earlier, a public health expert, Kayode Owoso, explained that “with the current scientific breakthroughs (PrEP, PEP, PMTCT, DPV-VR, etc.), an HIV-negative person can marry or have sex with a person living with HIV without fear of contracting the virus. A pregnant woman living with HIV won’t transmit the virus to her baby.

“Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99 percent when taken as prescribed, which can be used before exposure to HIV. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is HIV medicine that can be used within 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV to prevent the virus from taking hold in the body.

“Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) provides care and support for women living with HIV during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period. The Dapivirine Vaginal Ring (DPV-VR), recently approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), also reduces the risk of HIV; it must be worn inside the vagina.”

He emphasized the need for more sensitization and education of people on the prevalence of the virus and the importance of getting tested and knowing their HIV status to stay safe.

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