A medical expert, Amaka Momah-Haruna, has made case for young people living with Human Immunodeficiency Viruses HIV and their right and inclusion in the society.
Momah-Haruna, author of a new book titled “Generation Z: conversation with young people living with HIV”, lamented the high rate of suicide attempts among young people living with the disease.
Speaking during the book’s presentation in Abuja, Momah-Haruna explained that she was deeply inspired to write the book in order to share the underrepresented experiences of adolescents people living with HIV.
In interviews with around ten of the young individuals living with HIV, she claimed to have learned that the majority of them caught the infection when they were very young.
She also noted that eight of the ten young people made suicide attempts.
She urged the Federal Government (FG) to put in place institutions to ensure persons living with HIV can function in schools and have access to work opportunities, noting that 30 per cent of the 1.9 million people living with HIV are young people.
Her words: “These are stories of young Nigerians who are 15 years younger than me, who had overcome so much to get to where they are today. I thought to myself, how many people actually know these stories? They feel they know but they may actually not know stories. Here I am supposedly a public health expert, with over 10 years experience, working on HIV programmes, and I didn’t know that most of them only found out in their late teens that they are HIV positive.
“I also didn’t know about the high rates of suicide attempts among these young cohorts. Also, about eight out of 10 of them had attempted suicide. I also didn’t know about the mental and physical torture that young people with HIV particularly the old ones, the mental health strings around it, and I didn’t know many of them find it difficult finding jobs because sometimes organisations routinely ask for pre-employment screening, and, then, you have to declare your HIV status when you don’t want to.
“We as the planners and programmers or designers are meant to be the ones advising government on policies and other issues, yet most of us don’t really know the real story that they have.
“When HIV was detected years ago, it was contracted by adults, but as I mentioned in the book for the first time, the world is experiencing a new generation of people who were born and have lived with HIV virus for over 20 years now and their experiences are totally different.
“How are we ensuring that we are setting up structures to ensure that they can function in schools and have access to job opportunities, have meaningful relationships and also to ensure that they have access to drugs to make sure that their children as well, are HIV negative.
“They are not a small population of people like we often like to believe. In Nigeria, there are an estimated 1.9 million people living with HIV and about 30 per cent of those are young people living with HIV and I imagine that at least half of them don’t know they are HIV positive. And, while these stories I have in the book are those who are not transiting to adulthood, they are still the stories of young people; younger teens living with HIV in Nigeria. Now I don’t have all the answers but in a nutshell that is why I wrote the book.”
Chief executive officer, CEO, APIN Public Health Initiatives, Dr. Prosper Okonkwo, stated that the country’s efforts to prevent HIV in children had stopped.
According to him, there are significant gaps in the health care provided to persons living with HIV that need to be filled, including a lack of education, parental and caregiver support, and communication.
Additionally, he demanded that the government include HIV services in PHC, arguing that adolescent rights should be included in national budgets.