As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day tomorrow, Martins Ifijeh chronicles the lives of Nigerians who are living with the HIV/AIDS virus
When 32 years old Tobi (not real name) was in her teenage years, all she wanted for her future was a comfortable life so she could lift her parents out of poverty. She had thought she would end up having a good job, marry the man of her dream, have three beautiful children, and become like the society women she sees on television.
At 16 she was already working towards that dream. She had passed her secondary school final examinations and soon gained admission into the Lagos State University to read Public Administration. In 2008, a year after she finished her youth service, she married one of her seniors back in school. Every script she had written in her head as a young girl were coming to pass one after the other.
But in August 2010, life served her lemons. Her husband was diagnosed of Human Immuno Virus (HIV) after bouts of ill health. She couldn’t believe her once handsome heartthrob was becoming a shadow of his former self. He became thin, lost his job due to sickness, and she could see productive years disappear from him. All he was doing was struggle to live.
“We were treating him for tuberculosis, and soon kidney issues followed. Doctors told us the virus had moved to an advanced stage, that if he had presented on time, anti retroviral drugs would have been able to keep him for several more decades in a healthy state,” she said.
Tobi’s husband died in February 2012, leaving her to grapple with the virus which he had passed on to her. “Not in my widest dream would I have thought I will have a family member who is HIV positive, not to mention having it myself. I used to think the illness only happens to people in far away lands.
“Between 2010 and 2014, my life was in shambles. I saw my world crumble like a pack of cards. All the dreams I wanted to fulfill with my husband turned into mirage. The only thing left for me is my parents. I only started picking myself up few years ago,” she explained.
Despite Tobi not able to make lemonades from the lemons life served her, she was able to learn some lessons. She knew if they had had HIV test before the marriage, they both would have been aware of their status, which means the husband would have been on ARD to keep him healthy. She learnt HIV is only a death sentence to those who are either unaware of their status, refuse to be placed on drugs, or those who were diagnosed at a very late stage, the kind that could be regarded as Acquired Immune Disease Syndrome (AIDS). Tobi is currently on ARD and she is living healthy despite having the virus.
Tobi who has refused to get married since her husband’s death fears rejection, hence the decision not to give in to any man who asks for her hand in marriage. “I believe once I tell them my status, they will not only run away, but will stigmatise me. So I run from advances from me. The only one who was persistent, and insisted that he must marry me eventually disappeared the day I told him I was HIV positive.”
Oscar did not know HIV does not have favoritism. He thought he was too cool to ever contract the dreaded virus. At 20, his body count was already reading 18. Among the 18 girls he slept with at the time, he agreed to forcefully sleeping with three. To him and his friends, the more girls you sleep with, the more respect you get among your peers.. It was an achievement he looked forward to every blessed day.
There were times Oscar and his friends passed on girls to each other. An attitude they believed shows their friendship as boys.
Despite the loose lifestyle, Oscar never believed in sex with condoms. He says condoms make sex boring. “The few times I tried using condom I didn’t enjoy it, so I stopped. Not in my widest dream did I believe I will ever contract HIV.”
But like the biblical saying, that what so ever a man sows he reaps, Oscar soon reaped the fruit of his promiscuity and risky lifestyle. He is 27 years and currently living with HIV.
“I first noticed I was not immune to the virus, when on December 1st 2015 I bumped into a free HIV testing campaign in Computer Village, Ikeja. After the test, I was told My test showed positive to the virus. I was advised to do a further test in any lab of my choice. The results came out the same.”
Though Oscar broke down for several months, he is now back on his feet after undergoing several bouts of counselling. He is currently on anti retroviral drugs.
He says his greatest challenge right now is stigmatisation, as he has lost an otherwise lucrative job because medical screening, a prerequisite for getting the job, was done after he had passed all processes required to get the job.
“If not for this virus, I would have been working at the airport today, supplying Jet A1 to airlines. But I lost it. Am praying government and stakeholders find a cure for this disease one day,” he said.
“How much tragedy can a woman endure in her life time. How much?” These were the first words of Ada when she decided to open up to THISDAY about her status as a person living with HIV.
Her trouble started in 2007 when she and her husband discovered they were infected with HIV. It was a barrage of blame games between them on who may have possibly infected the other.
He would beat her up at every slightest opportunity. Throw her things out of the house. In some instances he would attempt to strangulate her to death because he believed she infected him. But Ada said she was very sure her late husband was the one who brought the virus home because she married him a virgin.
Soon, her husband got ill, and his family placed all the blame on her, until he finally died in 2010, leaving her to suffer the stigma and shame due to the incessant quarrel on who must have infected the other.
“Both my family and his rejected me and my three children. Our landlord threw us out of our house. We started living from hand to mouth, begging everyone we met for food,” she said tearfully.
It wasn’t long after, Ada lost her first daughter to the illness. She thought of relocating from Lagos to her village in Ebonyi State, but everyone in her village already knew she and her children were HIV positive, hence she shoved off the idea.
Ada, who said she eventually broke down in front of her Revered Father, as there was no where else to go, was then taken by him to a non governmental organisation for support. “They gave me counselling, took care of my children and ensured that we were all placed on ARD. As at today, me and my children are living our lives one at a time. Though I feel the pain of what my life has turned out, my children have become source of joy to me every day,” she said.
Tobi, Oscar and Ada are not the only ones who have experienced the pain of living with the virus in Nigeria, statistics show that over three million Nigerians are currently living with the disease that leaves sorrow tears and blood on its path.
The Director General, National Agency for the Control of AIDs, NACA. Mr. Sani Aliyu in one of his interviews on the Nigerian Television Authority said at least 500 Nigerians die of HIV/AIDs daily, with an average new infection of 600 people every day.
He said although the country has achieved great heights with the support of government and the international community, a lot of help was still needed from private individuals to address the challenges posed by the existence of HIV/AIDs in Nigeria.
Nigeria remains the country with the second highest burden of the disease globally, just behind South Africa.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate World AIDS Day tomorrow, health experts have called on Nigerians to avoid risky lifestyles that could lead to contracting the virus.
Dr. Ogbejiele Wilson, a virologist said the virus could be transmitted through bodily fluids that include: blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluid, breast milk, emphasising that the most common methods of infection is through unprotected sex. Others include sharing needles, syringes, among others.
“HIV does NOT spread through skin-to-skin contact, hugging, shaking hands, or kissing, air or water, eating or drinking items, saliva, tears, or sweat (unless mixed with blood from an infected person), sharing a toilet, towels, or bedding, mosquitoes or other insects,” he added.
He said it does not show symptoms at first, especially for most people, adding that noticeable symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands and general aches and pains. “The clinical latent infection, or chronic stage of HIV can last from a few years to a few decades. During this time the virus is still reproducing, but at lower levels..
On prevention, he said there was presently no vaccine against it, adding that unprotected sex is the most common way for HIV to spread. “Abstaining from sex to a great extent eliminates the risk, but you can lower your risk considerably by taking a few precautions.”
The precautions, according to him includes regular screening to know status, “Get tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If you have one, get treated, because having an STD increases the risk of HIV. Learn the correct way to use condoms, and use them every time you have sex, except with a partners who are not engaging in sexual intercourse with any other person except you (vice versa). Married couples should stick to their partners. Have only one sexual partner who only has sex with you. If you have HIV, lower the risk of transmitting it to your sexual partner by taking your medicines as directed. Although this will lower your viral load, you still need to use condoms,” he added.
He also advised persons already living with the virus to ensure they take their drugs regularly as prescribed so they can lead healthy lives.