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We hide our status to avoid stigmatisation- AIDS Patients

By Maria Famakinwa

As Nigeria joined the world to mark 2023 World AIDS Day celebrated every December 1, some people living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in Nigeria shared how they have been coping with the health condition. They spoke about the difficulty of consistently adhering to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) while concealing their HIV-positive status for fear of stigmatization

Mr Blacky (not real name) died at the age of 42 after being diagnosed of HIV/AIDS at age 40. According to his wife Toyin, who blamed her late husband’s philandering escapades with different women for his untimely death disclosed that he also infected her with the disease which made her to be placed on ART daily .

While thanking God that none of her three children were infected with the virus, she said: “I sensed danger when I discovered that my late husband was a womaniser. He fell for anything in skirt. When he told me that he was sick in the year 2019, I thought it was an ordinary malaria but when it was getting serious, that he could hardly move his legs, I took him to the hospital where series of tests were carried out and he tested positive to HIV/AIDS. He was shocked when he got to know about his status. We tried to save him but it was too late because he was treating malaria and typhoid fever for months using herbs and pills before it was discovered that he had HIV/AIDS. After his status had been revealed, the doctor carried out same test on me and the children but mine was positive while my children were negative. Since then, I have been on ART drugs.”

Asked if she disclosed her status to anyone she said: “Except my children and siblings nobody knows I am HIV positive. Even in my office and environment nobody knows because I don’t look sick since I take my drugs religiously. If my husband was aware of his status earlier and started the treatment, he wouldn’t have died. I guess my husband’s concubines might know as well because during my husband’s burial early year 2020, two women came with two children each claiming that they were my late husband’s children and that they needed to get their own share of his property to care for their children.

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Though, I have heard their names before but that was the first time I saw them and their children. They were only concerned about the property to be shared disturbing the family on when to come for the meeting. I walked up to them and told them to go for HIV /AIDS test that the father of their children died of the disease, they almost fainted. They left weeping. Later I got to know that both of them were positive. Besides, being HIV positive is not a good news to broadcast, people will want to avoid me if they get to know which is not helpful for my recovery process. So, I can’t tell people my HIV/AIDS status,” she said.

A 24-year-old undergraduate, Mr Asade, who is also on ART medication, hinted that living with HIV in a country like Nigeria where people living with the infection still suffer stigma as a result of poor knowledge of the health condition was challenging. He added that none of his friends is aware of his HIV status neither are they aware that he is on any medication.

His words: “It has not been easy living with HIV really. For me, the challenge is not only the stigma but also the daily intake of the drugs. Due to my status, I missed my two admissions because my parents insisted that I must not be far from them to monitor my treatment.”

Asked if his parents were HIV positive he said: “I am the only one out of four children that tested positive to HIV. My parents also are free of the disease. Please don’t ask me why I am positive because it is a sad story I don’t like to tell. It brings back painful memory I am trying to forget. I do summarize it as a reward for being recalcitrant as a youth.”

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On how he has been managing his health and study, he said that he had no choice but to cope to make a different. “Sometimes, adherence to my medication becomes difficult because I don’t want people to know my status. I have a couple of friends and they are not aware of my status. My family members are not aware except my parents who have been supporting me to sustain the treatment. I take my drugs secretly to avoid being noticed and I don’t joke about it because I don’t want any further set back.

I tested positive to HIV since 2020, thank God for helping me. I am about completing my programme in the university which gives me strong hope that I can still live a normal life despite my status. I don’t think there is enough sensitization about HIV/AIDS like before because most of us receiving the treatment are youths and they often say that their families and friends are not aware of their status which make the disease to spread. Though, medical doctors warned us against infecting others but more awareness need to be done since most of us on the treatment have partners who don’t know we are HIV patients,” he said.

Another HIV patient, Mrs Yunusa, a trader, who look very healthy disclosed that she has been on the drug since 2017 after she tested positive to the disease in the same year. The mother of three who said that her being positive to HIV was strange because she was faithful added that but for the timely intervention of God, her marriage would have ended.

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Her words: “When the result of my HIV came out positive, I wanted to commit suicide because I was innocent. The matter became worse when my husband and children tested negative. I maintained that I was ready to do anything to prove my Innocence. My husband later believed me when medical doctors told him that HIV could be contracted through using infected sharp objects. I guess that my carefree attitude was responsible for my status. Probably I contracted it in the salon through using the needle while fixing my hair. The whole thing still remain a mystery to me.

Asked if her family and friends were aware of her status, she said that she could not disclose such to anyone except her husband and children but that she is very careful not to infect anyone. “My look does not show my status. I use my drugs and follow instructions. The only thing I regretted was leaving my initial trade of traveling to different states to buy goods due to my health,” she said.

Approximately 1.9 million Nigerians lived with HIV/AIDS in 2021 and the country noted 74,000 new infections in the same year alongside 51,000 AIDS-related mortalities. The country’s large population of around 213 million people means that, despite a relatively low prevalence rate, Nigeria has suffered the most significant HIV epidemic in West and Central Africa.

Women in Nigeria are at higher risk of contracting HIV than men, with an infection rate of 1.6% compared to 1% for men. This gender imbalance is even more pronounced in those aged 15-24, the age group which accounts for 40% of HIV/AIDS cases in the country. Many children suffer too. Nigerian children make up 14% of the global total of childhood HIV/AIDS cases, with 260,000 new cases recorded in children aged up to 14 in 2015 alone.

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