World AIDS Day: Experts encourage HIV self-testing amid COVID-19

...as stigmatisation, discrimination still have terrible consequences

Experts have said that people should engage in self-testing for HIV even in the midst of COVID-19, noting that this year marks the end of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 goal, replaced by the goal to reach 95-9595 by 2030; to diagnose 95 percent of people living with HIV, provide anti-retroviral therapy to 95 percent of those diagnosed, and suppress the virus in 95 percent of those on treatment.

They say stigma and discrimination of people living with AIDS still has terrible consequences in Nigeria, noting that COVID-19 crisis has worsened the challenges faced by people living with HIV, especially in accessing life-saving health care, and the crisis has widened the social and economic inequalities that increase the vulnerability of marginalised groups to HIV.

Every December 1 is set aside to celebrate world AIDS day, as Nigeria joins the rest of the world, the implication is that there should be deliberate determination to continue to spell out measures to prevent infection, and also check its spread among the populace, while also noting its effect on the people.

“Prior to the lockdown, there had been challenges with thinking around how to address the gap with populations’ access to HIV testing and identifying the unreached HIV positive population,” said Gbenga Alabi, executive secretary, Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS (NIBUCAA).

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According to Alabi, HIV self-testing has been identified as a strategy that contributes to the achievement of the UNAIDS global target by reaching first-time testers as well as identifying the partners of HIV positive clients.

“Nigeria is currently lagging in achieving the 1st 95 of the 95-95-95 target by 2020 considering the 2018 HIV/ AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey.

“HIVST is a child of necessity, it is an innovative strategy to increase uptake of HTS especially for underserved populations and persons who do not access conventional HTS and HIVST has been shown to be acceptable to many diverse populations’ groups in a variety of settings,” he said.

This year’s themes are “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact”, and “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”.

“It is the responsibility of the state to protect everyone. Human rights are universal—no one is excluded. The very people who are meant to be protecting, supporting, and healing people living with HIV often discriminate against the people who should be in their care, denying access to critical HIV services, resulting in more HIV infections and more deaths,” Ojo Sikiru, a medical practitioner based in Lagos.

Sikiru said that every Nigerians should know there HIV status, because with the drug treatment can significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection from spreading.

“HIV testing is important to know your status, for increasing treatment and ensuring that all people With HIV are offered the preventive drug,” he said.

At least 45,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria died in 2019, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ AIDS by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

Despite major progress in the fight against the HIV/ AIDS, peculiar challenges still persist. In 2020, the world’s attention has been focused by the COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods.