Working with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria brought with it many surprises, and a better understanding of why so many people get affected of HIV in Nigeria.
Worldwide, Nigeria has the second highest number of new infections reported each year. It is estimated that 3.7 percent of the population are HIV positive.
Sex is traditionally a very private subject in Nigeria and the discussion of sex with teenagers is often seen as inappropriate. It is evident that some groups, particularly religious and cultural leaders, have acted as a barrier to previous attempts to provide sex education for young people in Nigeria.
I certainly noticed this working within this topic. Several times a week, I visited schools together with a local team, for talk about the subject. Most of us already know, that using condom is the most effective way for a person to protect him or herself against HIV. However, we were not allowed to mention the word condom. Most schools in Nigeria are very religious. The teachers standing in the windows, listening. If the word condom was mentioned, we would be asked to leave and never come back.
As we could not talk about condoms, we were told do teach them to practice abstinence. Well, it is a pretty secure was of not being infected by the HIV virus. But does it actually work? Personally, I was sure that most of these youths would have sex, independent on what we told them. And I felt bad, because many of them would probably have it without condoms due to that they do not know the importance of it. I took up this with one of the leaders of the project. The answer I got was that the condoms was not secure against HIV anyway. Because the HIV virus was so small, and would go through the condom. That in addition had small microscopic holes.
All of these misconceptions due to religion and incorrect education, which contribute to that more people get HIV infected.
In addition, very few Nigerians know their HIV status. This can place people at risk of becoming ill, as they do not access timely HIV treatment and care. It also increases the risk of onward transmission to sexual partners.
During my time in Nigeria, we tested several people. Mostly orphanages. Though very few of them were HIV positive. When the few that we tested that were, it was heartbreaking. Mostly because they were children. They did not do anything for get this virus. It was transmitted from their parents. They had never been tested, and some of them had been sick for a long time.
As mentioned in an earlier post, that some of the people that actually know they status as HIV positive, refuse to take their medicines. This because they believe that God will make them healthy. If they just go to church, pray and make the priest heal them, they will become healthy. I witnessed this in the NGO I worked.
With this post, I do not mean to humiliate the Nigerians, or make them sound stupid. Because they are not. However, the cultural and religious taboos around sex, result in wrong knowledge. So what do you think could be the solution for the Nigerian people to get the right perceptions and prevent HIV infections in the future?