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Monday 27 February 2006
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NIGERIA: HIV testing campaign draws poor response

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


LAGOS, 13 October (PLUSNEWS) - Motivating people in Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital, to be tested for HIV/AIDS has been an uphill battle, despite widespread campaigns.

In Ifako-Ijaye, a heavily populated suburb, the local voluntary testing and counselling (VCT) centre has clients waiting for their tests, but the response has been nowhere near what the officials implementing the 'Know Your HIV Status' project were hoping for.

"Despite all the strategies we have adopted, the number of people that have come forward for testing so far is disappointingly low," said Wunmi Sina-Falana, project team coordinator of Centre for Health, Education and Development Communication (CHEDCOM), a Lagos-based NGO.

CHEDCOM is running the campaign in the Lagos and Ogun states of southwest Nigeria, with support from the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA)

Fewer than 500 people were tested at the Ifako-Ijaye centre between February and September 2005, despite initial projections of attracting 200 people per month. CHEDCOM found that 15 percent of the estimated 500 clients were HIV positive.

Around 4 million Nigerians are living with HIV/AIDS, giving the country one of the top three HIV prevalence rates in the world, along with India and South Africa.

Sina-Falana admitted that although extensive advocacy efforts encouraging people to know their status were taking place, not much success had been achieved.

"We have embarked on print and broadcast media campaigns, distributed more than 10,000 flyers and information booklets and we have banners all over the place, but we are not encouraged by the turnout so far," she said.

Although the centre receives many telephone enquiries about HIV testing from all over the country, only a fraction of the callers show up to take the test. Some decline even after pre-test counselling, with the excuse that they cannot afford the 500 naira (US $3.50) it costs.

According to Sina-Falana, the high levels of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, and the poverty levels in the country were major contributing factors.

But the centre's VCT Counsellor Ola Salami, who is also HIV-positive, said fear was another major obstacle to testing because many people were apprehensive about their past sexual activities.

"Even some who eventually test negative are gripped by fear and sometimes break down in tears until they know their status," Salami commented.

Nevertheless, he remarked, it was easier for him to counsel those who tested positive.

"Since I am positive they tend to believe me when I say that being positive does not mean they are going to die soon - they are able to relate to me better. Anybody trained can be a counsellor but being positive has an advantage since you will be speaking from personal experiences," he pointed out.

CHEDCOM also runs a 'Care and Support' group that meets once a month, with a nurse and volunteer doctor available to treat minor ailments and opportunistic infections.

Funding for CHEDCOM's testing campaign will run out by December 2005, but Sina-Falana is hoping to obtain further financial resources from businesses.

"There is still a lot that has to be done to curb the spread of the virus - it is not enough for us to have created awareness," Sina Falana said. "Until as many people as possible come to know their status, our job is not yet done."


Recent NIGERIA Reports
Funding agencies demand greater accountability,  7/Dec/05
MSF research highlights treatment threat,  6/Dec/05
Global Fund grant threatened,  6/Dec/05
A lethal dose of shame,  18/Oct/05
Children orphaned by AIDS slipping through the cracks,  6/Oct/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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