A Generation on the Brink

12 Dec 2012

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The dialogue that Saturday morning was poignant.  It was the eighth day of ‘Getting to Zero,’ - the World Aids Day theme for 2012 - but they were engrossed with the spectre of what they’ve had to contend with, outside a society they were born into. 

From Emmanuel Odafe: “I was about 11-years-old when I knew I had HIV. I felt really bad and sad because I thought I would die.”
“I used to fall ill, when I was not aware of my status. But since I joined the club, I take my drugs daily; I don’t fall ill and people do not notice anything. I relate with friends in school in a rather normal way.”

Now 14-years-old, Odafe says, “I must always take my drugs everyday but never carry it to school.” For him, the people not noticing anything meant he’s protected from discrimination. He had lived that way since 2008 when he knew his status as a carrier, unable to freely express himself, freely associate and freely move around with his drugs.

Like five other children (whose back views are pictured here) who spoke with THISDAY with a request to protect their identity, Odafe’s story tells a tale of new face of HIV pandemic in Nigeria. What was once characterised by a woman’s face has now turned to one associated with orphans in a weak social protection systems.

Although Odafe has joined the Teenage Club Group, an adolescent group of persons infected and affected by Human Immune Virus (HIV) in Lagos, where he says, “I have found people like me and we get along so well compared to what we face outside there.”  But, in Mangu local government situated in the South Eastern part of Plateau State, Pam Elisha a 16-year-old Junior Secondary School student in his 2nd year is without a club. He has a burden of taken care of herself and five other siblings in a ‘child headed’ house. 

Pam and his siblings have lost their mother and father to AIDS just six years ago.  When THISDAY contacted them for consent to use their photographs, they declined.  “You will be exposing us to wickedness,” says Pam. “We are okay the way we are. We love to go on the pages of newspapers to create the awareness, but perceptions here are always in the negative. We are discriminated against, isolated and poorly treated.”

It is true. Dr. Prosper Okonkwo who heads the Harvard University funded AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN) that is responsible for implementation of HIV/AIDS care treatment support programs in about 12 states across the country says, “from the work we do apart from the fact that some people who are positive have not come out, one practical example of stigmatisation we found in the work we do is that people are not comfortable getting their drugs and treatment from within their location. They will prefer to pay transport and travel far for their drugs. This is because they don’t want people that know them to find out their status. So there is still stigmatisation.”

Okonkwo argues that the answer lies in President Goodluck Jonathan given assent to the anti-stigmatisation bill on his table. “As we talk there is the anti-stigmatisation bill that the National Assembly has passed sometime ago which we still believe the president will assent to.  It’s one of the things that came up during this year’s World AIDS Day because you know that the broad theme for the next four years is counting to zero. Because we expect that by 2015 we would have reached the millennium development goal and so we are saying zero new infection, zero discrimination, and zero HIV related death.

The Bill for an Act to make Provisions for the prevention of HIV and AIDS based on Discrimination and to protect the human Rights and Dignity of people living with and people affected by HIV/AIDS and other related matters Bill (2009) is the legislation that its proponents believe will prevent and sanction perpetrators of such acts.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is also taking steps that will lead to the enactment of a common HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination law across the West African sub-region too.  In that direction, a team has been put together by the ECOWAS to analyse existing laws on HIV/AIDS in its 15 member states. 

According to Brima Kamanda, a Sierra Leonean parliamentarian who heads the team, the reason for ECOWAS to get involved is to come up with laws on HIV/AIDS with provisions to minimize discrimination and stigmatization of people living with the pandemic in the 15 member states. The laws will then be submitted to the ECOWAS Parliament where it will be synchronised into a single document for all the member states to adopt.

More than anyone else, it will be the orphans who are the new face of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria that will be favoured, if such law take their roots on the soil.

In a statement titled: ‘Millions of Nigerian children devastated by HIV/AIDS’ issued by the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) in 2006, There was just an estimated 1.8 million children orphaned by AIDS in Nigeria.  The statement claimed that was just a fraction of the number of children whose lives have been radically altered by the impact of HIV/AIDS on their families and communities.

And in 2008 that number rose astronomically with the Federal Ministry of Health declared 2.4 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Now, there are over 2.5 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. In a statistics, last week by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), its Director for Partnership and Coordination, Hajiya Maimuna Mohammed said, “At least 2.5 million children in Nigeria have been orphaned by HIV and AIDS and the epidemic was the major contributing factor to the high population of orphans in the country, posing a threat to the socio-economic development.

She agreed that stigma and lack of awareness had led to the continuous increase in HIV transmission, with more impact on children.

Dr. Ifeyinwa Onwuatuelo, an HIV/AIDS care giver in Abuja confirmed that ‘Child headed household’ is a growing phenomenon in Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS circle.  According to her, children between the ages of 13 and 19 are assuming the headship of families in Nigeria after losing both parents to AIDS without uncles and aunties ready to take up the responsibility of caring for them.  “ We have families where there is no single adult to carry on with the orphans.  In some cases there is no grandmother and the only adult available are senior children between the ages 13 and 19. So, they naturally take up the role of adults.”

Worse, the government makes little effort to improve this situation. For example in 2001, the whole world gathered in Nigeria where they came up with Abuja declaration, which demanded for increased budget and requested that at least 15 per cent of national budget should  go for health and out of that 5 per cent should be allocated to HIV/AIDS. Till date, Nigeria is yet to implement that agreement.
And at the last count, the 36 States in Nigeria including Abuja contributes only 0.3 per cent to national HIV budget. “It has all been donor affairs,” said Jumai Bello, an HIV/AIDS Activist based in Markurdi, Benue State.

While these phenomena combine in a thread that runs through the country leaving no particular region in isolation, the impact can be dire. Some of the vulnerabilities faced by the Orphans include stigmatisation, discrimination, malnutrition, sexual violence, child labour, dropping out of school, lack of access to parent’s properties, trafficking and even death. With little or no social protection systems in place, most of the children found it very difficult to cope with these risks, with far reaching negative consequences for the girl child.

That gap, is what Dr. David Nkiruka, a consultant paediatrician and chief Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research(NIMR), prompted her to action.

She said: “When I first came to work here, taking care of the children living with HIV in 2006, other people wondered why I was doing it that after all, they were going to die anyway. It has been really worthwhile with them and quite rewarding as they tell you what they go through daily and even at midnight they call to talk to you. I will say I know them more than their biological parents.”

“Some of them are orphans living with their relatives while some have just one parent each, which is not really easy for them.”

“These children would have died if they didn’t have access to care. But because they came into the centre they are doing well. We don’t just give them drugs but we also help them solve some social issues bothering them. Though they have a lot of problems bottled up inside of them that they cannot tell their friends in school. Most times, they call me at night to tell me some of their challenges and I  talk to them and encourage on what to do.”

“As a doctor, I am not supposed to get emotionally involved with my patients but you just can’t help, because you become part of them and they share things with you. Here, we sensitise and make them believe they are normal like every other person. Today, they are passionate about the club, which has become an avenue for interacting with their peers going through the same illness, because some of them never really had friends.”

Chisom Ebuka readily admits to being one of the lucky few. “I am 15-years-old in Senior Secondary School level 2. At the time I found out I was positive, I felt really sad. My mum is late. I don’t really feel the absence of my mum anymore; I feel that my people are here. I am fine and have no fears or worries. I live like a normal child,” he said.

Mr. Oba Abdul-Rasheed, who is interested in the plight of the children living with HIV and has been in charge of many for over five years, reveals the plight and stigmatisation of the children and teenagers.

“It is not really easy to take care of people living with HIV. You have to sensitise them on what they go through and tell them the dos and don’ts. Some are affected while others are infected. Those affected are siblings to those children infected with the illness.”

“One of the effects is that HIV affects growth. It makes them look smaller than their ages. These people living with HIV live on drugs (Active Retroviral Virus) and they cannot afford to miss it for a day. If a child takes the drug off and on, then we say the drug failed; if, he tries the second line, which is highly active Anti-Retroviral Therapy. When he fails that stage then we mix different ones to see if it will work. They keep trying other therapy, surely, one will work.

And 26 years after AIDS was diagnosed in Nigeria, the rising case of children orphaned by AIDS may be a concern that requires government attention and provision of social protection afterwards.

Worried by the terror attacks in Kaduna and the seeming inability of the security agencies to contain the situation, Muslim and Christian women are joining hands to offer prayers, writes John Shiklam

isenchanted by the inability of the security agencies to bring an end to the deadly activities of suspected members of the  Islamist sect, Boko Haram, Christian and Muslim women in Kaduna, under the aegis of Interfaith Forum of Muslim and Christian Women’s Associations (IFMCWA) have decided to go spiritual.

Recently, the women of both faiths from various denominations converged at the Women Multi-Purpose Centre in Kaduna for a special prayer for peace and an end to the bombings and killings of innocent people by those perpetrating evil.

Kaduna is one of the states in the North which had suffered series of bomb explosions, especially on the churches, the latest of which was the twin bombings at St. Andrew Protestant Church at the Jaji Military Cantonment where more than 15 people reportedly died.
Earlier, there had been a suicide bombing of St. Rita’s Catholic Church at Ungwan Yero in Malali area of the city on Sunday October 28, 2012.

The latest bombing in which two cars targeted St. Andrews Protestant Church at the Jaji Military Cantonment, detonating explosives one after the other in an attack surprised many residents  who understand that the cantonment is usually heavily guarded. 

And since all human efforts aimed at bringing an end to the frequent bombings and killings appeared not to be yielding no desired result in addressing the security situation according to IFMCWA, the women have resorted to divine intervention from God.

The prayer sessions which lasted for about two hours was attended by the wife of the Kaduna State governor, Mrs Amina Yakowa and wives of some other government officials.

The prayers were jointly offered according to the Islamic and Christian faith. Each representative of the various Christian and Islamic faiths was called upon to pray. The women also read some verses from the Holy Bible and Qur’an.

In one of the prayer sessions, which was jointly said by all of the participants, the women prayed God to fish out all those perpetrating evil in the land.

“Oh, Watcher over His creatures, who neither slumber nor sleep, the All Knowing, the All Seeing, fish out these evil perpetrators in our land, for you are  All-Doing, You are the most powerful.
“We adore you. We appreciate you; we desire your utmost care, now as always. Thank you for we know you have heard our supplication.”

Also praying for an end to the violence, the women condemned every act of violence against a fellow human being.
“Every act of violence in our world between myself and another, destroys a part of your creation. Stir within my heart a renew sense of reverence for all life. Give me the vision to recognise your spirit in every human being however they behave towards me. Make possible the impossibility by cultivating in me the fertile seed of healing love.

May I play my part in breaking the cycle of violence by realizing that peace begins with me.”
Readings were also taken from the Bible in Matthew Chapter 5: 3 – 12 and the Qur’an Sura 2:255
Many of the women who spoke shortly after the programme said the security challenges facing the country, especially the North requires fervent prayers for divine intervention.

Also in a message to Governor Patrick Yakowa, IFMCWA called on governments at all levels to create job opportunities for the youths to enable them develop their talents.

The message which was jointly signed by the General Coordinator of IFMCWA, Rev. Sister Kathleen McGarvey Ola  as well as the Muslim and Christian coordinators of the association, Hajiya Amina Kazaure and Mrs. Comfort Fearon respectively  urged the citizens of Kaduna state to be peaceful and united to overcome the evil that is threatening the state.

“We have gathered today to join our voices in prayers and supplication to God our creator to entrust our lives and our country into His care and beseech Him to bring peace to our land.  We have asked God to enlightened the hearts of all those who are planning evil so that their intentions may be transformed and they will choose good over evil.We have prayed for justice that those have been found guilty of crimes will be made accountable in accordance with the law of our constitutions,” they said.

They expressed the hope that God will give courage to the nation’s leaders to take necessary steps to address the problems bedevilling the country, especially the growing rate of youth unemployment.

In her remarks at the occasion, Mrs  Amina  Yakowa commended the women group for promoting peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims.

She called on the terrorists and their sponsors to stop killing innocent Nigerians, stressing that no amount of killing will end Christianity and Islam.

“All those behind these killings should have a rethink, we mothers are begging.   Let’s preach peace and act peace. We should go back to God. It is time for us Christians and Muslims to come to together and pray to God for what is happening today in our state and the country at large.

“Today, we have seen what is happening in our state and the country, God has a purpose for every life He created. Today, some people will just take somebody’s life without minding our religious tenets,” the governor’s wife said.

She noted further that God gives children as blessing, pointing out that some parents have failed in bringing up these children in a way that they will be good citizens and contribute positively to the development of the community.
She called on parents to rise to their responsibilities by bringing up their children properly and saying that most of the problems in the homes and in the society are because many parents were not living up to their responsibilities.

“I am sorry to say this, but most of us mothers lack good examples for our children to follow. The youths are our future. What amount of money would somebody give you to terminate your life and the lives of other people?
“If you look at the kind of vehicles they used in the suicide bombings, you wonder who those behind them are. Why are their sponsors not involving their children? We need peace; we want our children to attain their full potentials in life,” she said.

Tags: Life, Life and Style, HIV

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