Despite significant progress in addressing HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria still has the second highest rate of HIV in the region, and one of the highest rates globally, which led to 150,000 deaths in 2017 alone
Children and young people carry the greatest burden.
In 2017, 220,000 children (under 14 years old) were reportedly living with HIV, and Nigeria is the only country in the world where AIDS related deaths amongst young people is on the rise.
The increased access to smart phones has also made pornography prolific.
As Sunday Musa, Director of ACET Nigeria says, ‘Many children in Nigeria don’t have 3 meals a day, but they are consuming pornography with access to cheap smart phones.’
Pornography edifies sexual violence, and creates unhealthy expectations of sex, promoting early sexual debut and demand for dangerous sexual activity, contributing to the HIV endemic.
In Nigeria, gender inequality is commonplace, putting girls and women at greater risk of poverty, sexual violence, unsafe pregnancies and leaving school early. Consequently, girls and women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to have HIV.
As well as providing HIV testing, counselling and treatment adherence support, ACET Nigeria works across the generations in underserved, rural communities to address the drivers of HIV, including stigma, poverty and gender inequality.
Children and young people are very involved, as trained community volunteers run weekly Kids’ and Esteem clubs, providing education about HIV and other relationship and sexual health issues.
"Our approach is holistic. We are involved with children, forming Kids’ Clubs - and then we have Esteem Clubs that target ages 13 to 17.
We give them prevention messages that are value based, and then we make them to realise who they are, how precious their body is, how they need to take their choices into their own hands, how they can delay sex.
And for those who are already sexually active, it’s a good number of ages – 14, 15, 16 – for various reasons. In many cases due to sexual violence against children.
So, because of that, we help them to realise who they are. We help them to identify dangerous environments. We help them to develop confidence to be able to share whatever is happening with them with their parents, or other significant adult that they trust.
Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest new infections of mother to child transmission of HIV. One of the major factors is ignorance of safer baby feeding practices and, of course, stigma.
We are mobilising pregnant women and women of a reproductive age and we are encouraging them to go for antenatal care enrolment.
The Nigerian government has it that every woman gets tested to know their HIV status and, if they test positive, they are encouraged to enrol on PMCT services [Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission].
We had 29 pregnant women that tested positive in 2017, and all of these were enrolled on ART (antiretroviral therapy) and PMCT.
And we are very happy to say that the 29 all had a baby born and, after 18 months, each of these babies’ testing came out to show that they had a good outcome, not having HIV. For us, that’s very rewarding.
And, of course, we mobilise churches and communities to go for tests generally, so that people of all ages get access to know their HIV status and then do what is needed.”
I now know that HIV is all over our country and my knowledge about HIV is deeper than before.
I learnt that it is possible for people of the opposite sex to be just friends and not have sex and that pre-marital sex is risky as one can get infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Though we were taught puberty development in my junior secondary class I didn’t remember anything, until I started attending the Esteem Club.
It all came to me fresh as if I never heard anything.
Now I understand that the changes such as pimples, changes in voice, hair, breast, sizes, etc. that occur during puberty are normal things.” Alex, aged 18