There is growing concern in Akwa Ibom State following the release of the Nigerian HIV/AIDs Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), which shows that Akwa Ibom has the highest prevalence rate of HIV in the country. The result indicates that Akwa Ibom State is ranked first with a prevalence rate of 5.5 per cent, followed by Benue State with 5.3 per cent prevalence rate.
Announcing the NAIIS result on Thursday, the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDs (NACA), Sani Aliyu, said about 1.9 million Nigerians are currently living with HIV, adding that the South South Zone, which includes Akwa Ibom State has the highest prevalence rate, with an average of 3.1 per cent. The North West Zone, the NACA boss said is lowest with a prevalence rate of 0.6 per cent.
He said the percentage of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Nigeria, among the age group of 15-49 years, is 1.4 per cent (1.9 per cent among females and 0.9 per cent among males.)
In Akwa Ibom State, there has been a general outrage over the scary statistics. While some doubt the accuracy of the statistics, some say the rate could actually be higher than reported.
One Archampong Ed, a health worker in the state described the Statistics as not only accurate, but an understatement. He noted that he “once went with ProHealth to Oron. Almost 40% of people I saw get tested were positive. So I agree with Akwa Ibom having a high prevalence. It may even be higher than the 5.5%.”
Another health worker, Nathaniel Ogbu agrees with Archampong. Corroborating the high prevalence rate, he said, “I worked in Akwaibom State. It’s alarming. Uyo, Ikot Abasi and Abak and Ikot Ekpene are worst hit.
“Yea…Benue used to have the highest prevalence until recently. What did they do? They stopped the denial. Intensified, awareness, opened doors to several NGOs..Pepfar, Apin, fhi360, etc. They acknowledged the fact that they had a crisis in their hands. It was ravishing back then. Government, Individuals, faith based organisation, NGOs where all involved. And today the result of their synergistic effort is what we have in that research.”
In his own reaction, Eduwemnyanobong Udeme said, “It is very true, I was one of the interviewers in the last HIV survey carried out in 2017 in Aks, in every 5 tested there’s 1 positive case.”
There seems to be a general agreement that poverty fuels the increase in the HIV infection in the state. A Social Media commentator suggests that the high prevalence rate has a direct link to the high level of poverty in the state.
“It is an established fact through research there is a direct correlation between HIV and poverty (read the short abstract from the Saudi journal below). HIV epidemic is a symptom of grinding poverty.
“It is also fact according to the National Bureau of Statistics that Akwa Ibom State has the second highest unemployment rate in Nigeria, it means there are more jobless people in our State than anywhere else in Nigeria and joblessness (if you have no other income coming in) translates to POVERTY!” The comment noted.
The commentator said there was no way the pandemic would not increase as unemployed youths, especially young female Akwa Ibom persons, would always try to see how they could make ends meet in a polity saturated by unemployment and poverty.
Continuing he said, “How do we expect our young people to survive, especially our daughters, they are pushed into risky behaviour to support themselves and their families – it is very desperate in Akwa Ibom State. Our daughters are engaged in the ‘RUNS’ trade more than anywhere else in Nigeria. Poverty has meant we are breeding a burgeoning PROSTITUTION INDUSTRY under our noses.”
Noel Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji in his journal article on “Is HIV/AIDS Epidemic Outcome of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?”, posits that “HIV infection is mostly confined to the poorest, who constitute the most of those infected in Africa. It is not simply that information, education, and counseling activities are unlikely to reach the poor but that such messages are often irrelevant and inoperable given the reality of their lives (5). Even if the poor understand what they are being urged to do, it is rarely the case that they have either the incentive or the resources to adopt the recommended behaviors.”
But all hopes are not lost. Many believe that if Benue State could bring down its HIV prevalence rate, then Akwa Ibom State will have no problem doing same.
An Akwa Ibom former beauty queen, now a nursing practitioner in the United States, Regina Askia Williams, is optimistic that a lot could be done if all stakeholders pull their efforts together. She noted that “Being HIV positive is not punishment for bad behavior; It’s not a death sentence; It’s not a crime. It is a condition which can be properly managed to protect the patient and the society. Advances in health care has made it possible to offer different levels of protection to the community.”
Continuing she said, “So some things to consider if AKS wants to curb the prevalence of HIV, sex education and reproductive health choices are paramount. Teach the use of condoms. We can pretend to be pious and abstinent but the fact is kids are becoming sexually active at younger ages.
“Poverty is inducing risky sex behaviors as highlighted above. It is important to have a healthy sex life, wiser to have choose one sex partner and limit exposure to STDs. It’s also important to have functional community clinics to educate as well as screen and treat sexually transmitted diseases. Best of all, start programs that will abolish poverty in the community. This is what I mean when I talk about my HIV programs for community health and wellness.”
Aniekeme Uwah, former Nigerian Medical Association Chairman and Epidemiology expert, highlights the modes of transmission of the virus to include, “HIV is transmitted in about 70% of cases through unprotected sexual intercourse between an infected partner /partners. Other modes of transmission include : i. From an infected mother to the unborn child; ii. Through unscreened blood transfusion; iii. Through sharing of sharp objects and other skin piercing instruments.”
Dr Uwah also points out the way forward through a multi dimensional approach. He said, “To curb the scourge of HIV /AIDS in our dear state, which will ultimately reduce the prevalence, a multi sectoral and dimensional approach is required”.
This would involve the individuals, educational institutions, the churches, the government and its agencies, community leaders, corporate bodies, etc.
As at the time of this report, the Akwa Ibom State government is yet to react to the Nigerian HIV/AIDs Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) and its consequences for the people of the state.