Monday, 12 October 2015

HIV/AIDS: Benue Development Partners Are Making Progress

When Mimidoo 21 (surname withheld) suddenly discovered she had become pregnant shortly after her marriage to her husband, she recieved the news with all joy and commenced ante natal care (ANC) after two months.

But she was shocked to the marrow when she took the HIV test and it was discovered that she had been infected with the HIV virus. She was just about two months pregnant then.

“I wept profusely when the nurse called me into her office and after counseling, told me I was HIV positive. To me at that point, I though my death certificate had been signed. I shivered uncontrollably as I kept weeping profusely.”

But the nurse did not give up of her as she was said to have continued counseling her, repeating severally that the suit was not the end of her life and that many infected persons have lived positively for several years.”

“The nurse told me that there are many other deadlier diseases around and that HIV is no longer death warrant as it used to be known. She counselled me seriously that day and encouraged me to go home and inform my husband about it and I did.”

That was in August last year and seven months after, Mimidoo had her first baby, a beautiful looking girl through normal delivery. The child is now ten months old and hasn’t tested positive to HIV.

The young mother of one who spoke to our correspondent when she visited the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) unit of FSP Clinic in Makurdi with her husband recently said he had come to take the test and probably commence treatment if found to be positive.

Ruth, a mother of three kids discovered her HIV status seven years ago shortly before she got married to her husband.

In her own case, she suddenly started falling sick and every medication she took seemed to only aggravate her predicament, a development which made her boyfriend who was then planning to marry her, advise her to go for wider tests.

“After I did all the necessary medical tests, I was told I had HIV and the discovery hit me. To worsen the situation, my boyfriend who was planning to marry me also took the test and was HIV negative. My whole whole world shattered immediately I received the news and I contemplated suicide because I didn’t see any reason to live again.”

However, due to the uncommon courage she received from her boyfriend who stood by her through that period and vowed to make good his promise to marry her, Ruth was able to pull through and today, happily married to her heartthrob with three lovely kids all of who are all HIV negative, she has everything to be thankful for.

“I was shocked when my boyfriend told me that he was still going to marry me despite my HIV status. We got married shortly after then and God has  so far blessed our marriage with three kids who are all HIV negative. You wont believe that up till this moment, my husband is still HIV negative.”

The mother of three who was sited at a PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) unit in Vadeikya local government of Benue State recently thanked UNICEF and other donor partners who have been collaborating with the state government in providing free drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS.

“UNICEF through the Benue State Government has been very helpful in the area of helping us access these drugs freely. By their acts, they have made the drugs accessible to very poor people and by so doing, reduced the number of deaths and mother to child transmission. For me, I have been taking the drugs in the last seven years and I have not noticed any side effect.”

Mrs. Margaret Beetseh, is the Focal person for PMTCT at the Primary Health Care Clinic, Wadata, Makurdi. She told our correspondent that the clinic has been enjoying adequate supply of the drugs while the pregnant women too have been cooperating in accessing the drugs.

Just started at the Ankpa/Wadata Ward this week. Have been supplying the drugs don’t have problem with drug supply and the pregnant women have also been cooperating by accessing the drugs and drugs.

“We usually give them health talks on the use of drugs, HIV counseling and testing. Also, we advise those who have had tests confirmed before not to worry to go for the test but they will still insist. One woman was tested positive and was given drugs but she refused to take them. Only for her to resurface two years later with another pregnancy and she was still positive.”

“A good number of the women are actually cooperating and taking their drugs. Others are taking secretly without their spouses knowing. Some are not coming at all because of self stigmatization. Some, instead of taking the drugs, run from one prayer house to another in the belief that they would be healed.”

When contacted, Deputy Director, Public Health, Benue HIV Health Sector Response Coordinator, Dr. Dura M Gideon said UNICEF is one of the renowned international partners supporting Benue in many areas including nutrition, HIV service delivery and Immunization among other vertical programmes like health promotion.

“Maternal morality rate is very high in Nigeria and one of the underlying factors that is promoting or associated with it is HIV/AIDS. The most worrisome is the fact that the infected women of productive age are usually likely to pass the virus to their children who are exposed.”

He noted that Prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) is a scientifically proven strategy that reduces the chances of HIV transmission from infected mothers to their children from 40% to 2% adding that the strategy is very affordable, available and simple to implement and access.

However, Dura lamented that the utilization of PMTCT services had always been very low in Benue over the years because of low attendance to antenatal services by pregnant women during which they can be enrolled into the PMTCT programmes.

“In as much as UNICEF has been supporting the services in terms of resources and technical inputs to support Benue State, PMTCT service utilization has remained unacceptably low in the state because of the poor health behavior of these pregnant women and their partners.”

He observed that over time in the state it has shown clearly that during maternal and child health weeks circles, thousands of pregnant women come out en mass from communities to utilize these health services which are conducted twice a year.

Dura said it was based on this reason that UNICEF decided to introduce HIV testing and counseling  as part of the Maternal and Child Health Week (MCHW) service components. ”

“The essence was to provide access for these women to undergo HIV counseling and testing as they turn out in their large numbers during MCH week. UNICEF successfully integrated the HIV Counseling and Treatment (HCT) for PMTCT with other MCHW services.”

Dura stated that initially, two local government areas  of Otukpo and Gboko were selected for the pilot trial in May/June 2014 and by November/December of the same year, it was scaled up reach 13 local government areas.

“Over 60,000 pregnant women were screened of HIV when they came out for the MCH week during the two circles of MCH integration with PMTCT. It was amazing because over 60,000 were harvested into PMTCT in only 13 local government areas within just a short period as against 50,000 pregnant women that were routinely harvested and enrolled into PMTCT programme in the 23 local government areas for the whole of 2013.”

“This has been a serious success story as initiated by UNICEF in collaboration with Benue State Ministry of Health. It was a good example of a successful integration of programmes which has shown us that we can use any available opportunity to integrate such programmes. However, in July 2015, we had to scale up the integration to the 23 local government areas of the state.”

“Currently, 265,000 women are expected to achieve pregnancy in Benue in 2015 through this integration. We try to serve those women that are pregnant and have positive HIV status and so are referred for enrollment into PMTCT programmes to liably prevent them from passing the virus to their babies.”

“By doing this, we save so many babies from being transmitted with HIV virus in order to preserve human capital in the state. Currently, it is criminal to allow any child come into this world with HIV infection just because it has unfortunately come from an HIV positive mother when we know that there is a reliable and quality strategy to prevent this menace. We wish to continue to partner with UNICEF and other relevant organizations so that we continue with this trend.”

Dura noted that over the years, Benue had been leading the chart of HIV prevalence in the country stressing that in 2010,  a HIV survey was carried out among pregnant women and Benue state was 12.7 %, a development which made Benue rank highest in terms of HIV prevalence.

“However, in 2012, another survey was conducted nationwide called national HIV AIDS and Reproductive Health Survey and Benue was found to have a prevalence of 5.6 % in the population which means we have dropped from first position to the ninth position among states which is a great improvement. In addition, our hospital based strategic data information has shown a continuous decline in HIV prevalence in Benue state.”

Corroborating Dura’s claim, Director General of the National Agency for Control of Aids, NACA, Professor John Idoko disclosed that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Benue State has dropped from five to two percent.

Speaking during a recent courtesy call on Governor Samuel Ortom, Professor Idoko urged that support for programs for the control of the disease should be sustained so that it does not bounce back.

In his response Governor Ortom pledged support and reiterated his administration’s commitment to partner with development partners and also pay counterpart funding.

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