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Tackling urgent health inequalities

Mrs Ochefije Iduh, (not real name) was pregnant for her second child when the discovery of her Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) status was uncovered.

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The 26-year-old had been told at the hospital where she went regularly for her antenatal check up, that she was infected with HIV before her husband whose presence was required to break the sad news.

Ochefije, who was then married for only five years was further shocked to find out that her husband who infected her with the virus , also knew about his status , but hid the truth from her and did nothing to protect her.

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She however gave birth to a HIV positive child few months later but the baby died shortly afterwards ,while devastated Ochefije and her husband also died in quick succession in the years that followed, leaving their first child now in the custody of relatives.

There are a lot of women like Ochefije in similar dilemma.

While some of them moved out of their homes quietly to avoid scandals, others have been subjected to all forms of maltreatment from either their husbands or in-laws, to the extent that such women died untimely or live the rest of their lives miserably ,and even in some cases are not given the opportunity to access health care.

Though accurate statistics may not be available to show the prevalence of women infected by their husbands, it is however a social fact, says Steve Aborisade, the Advocacy and Marketing Manager of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).

“It is not a statistics related to AHF, it is a social fact. Men are socially permitted to have side chicks aside their wives. Moreover, the prevalence of HIV is determined by the number of pregnant women at antenatal clinics.

“Women can’t negotiate safe sex while they can hardly take reproductive decision on their bodies. These factors ensured a gender face of HIV,” Aborisade emphasised.

According to Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), a third (32%) of all cases of mother to child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in the world happen in Nigeria. In 2016, just 32 percent of pregnant women living with HIV in Nigeria received antiretroviral treatment.

Despite yearly increases, the number of pregnant women visiting health facilities remains low, as does the number of health facilities providing Prevention-MTCT services (UNAIDS).

More so, the World Health Organisation (WHO), holds the opinion that almost 18 million women over the age of 15 make up over half of all adults living with HIV, and women ages between 15 and 24 account for 60 percent of those infected in that age group. 

Additionally, the WHO believes  that HIV positive women in many countries are not afforded equal access to treatment, and are often victims of discrimination and increased violence – including infringement upon their sexual and reproductive rights.

The worrying issue formed part of the discourse at this year’s International Women’s Day celebrated by the foundation in Makurdi, with the theme, ‘Keeping the Promise to Women.” 

Aborisade said the global event stemmed from the reality of the condition of women all over the world ,and the need to check the marginalization of women in all spheres of life.

“There is need to empower women to help them lead productive lives. So this effort is aimed at bringing Benue women together to hear from them on the challenges they face daily. 

“Their health challenges, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS because women and girls are the population that are mostly affected. Women are the people who are unable to negotiate safe sex.

“They are the people who most times are unable to take decisions regarding their reproductive rights.They must obtain permission from their husbands to access services. These have great impacts on their lives,” he added.

The AHF advocacy manager posited that in Nigeria ,for instance, “a lot of women who are HIV positive are positive on their matrimonial beds. So this meeting and celebration today will avail us the opportunity of how we begin to look at these issues ,and we should do so as a people.”

And it was on that basis that the dialogue commenced as the Foundation in partnering with the NGO and pet project of the Wife of the Benue State Governor, the Eunice Spring of Life Foundation, made attempt to proffer solutions to some of the challenges bedevilling women.

The town hall meeting had participation of over 250 women drawn from different parts of the state as a platform to aggregate the problems facing women, and proffer lasting solution to them with support of notable organisations like UNAIDS, Benue State AIDS Control Agency (BENSACA), Medical Women Association of Nigeria, Jojo Shaahu Foundation and other outstanding women associations in the state in attendance. 

The event earlier started with a rally along major roads in Makurdi and as soon as the rally terminated, the activity of the day, set in motion with full steam of different Women Support Groups from Agan, Daudu, Gbajimba, Markurdi, Awo Apilla and other areas of the state inclusive.

Suffice to state that  the topmost agenda was the issue of health inequalities that women suffered ,especially as related to HIV/AIDS services ,while consensus was on the need to ensure that adequate access is provided to women to access quality healthcare.

The First Lady of the State, Mrs. Eunice Ortom, commended AHF for bringing Benue women together, and said she is ready to partner with AHF for the sake of Benue women. 

In her remarks, through Mr. Daniel Gbabo, her Senior Special Assistant on Administration and ICT, the governor’s wife said now is the time to prioritise agenda for development for women.

While, Dr. Temitope Fadiya of UNAIDS, posited that the rights of women is already protected in the Constitution and as regards to Benue, there are other plans in line to further protect their rights. 

As for the Executive Secretary of Benue State AIDS Control Agency (BENSACA), Dr. Gideon Dura, stressed the opinion that men need to be more responsible to women, as he felt most women are infected by their men, whereas it is women who bears the brunt of the scourge more. 

On her part, a former Programme Director of BENSACA, Mrs Grace Wende, wants more active role by the men in women’s lives, noting the need for the laws in place to be effective and work for women. She also wants women to come out and speak for themselves.

Several women however at the meeting came up with various challenges that they were facing, including issues of violence, poverty and the lack of a voice on several issues affecting them, and would want government and stakeholders to take after AHF in investing in women, providing avenues where they can be heard and given opportunities to access free healthcare services like AHF provides. 

A lot of the women talked about the difficulties of portable water, the rising insecurity, which prevents them from farming, and requested government to help them to be gainfully engaged.

As the event closed, AHF distributed 200 water buckets with water treatment to 200 indigent women, to help them cope with the challenges of lack of access to portable water ,as majority of the women came from rural areas lacking access to good water supply. 

To this end, the AHF Chief of Global Policy, Advocacy and Marketing, Terri Ford, thinks that, “the world cannot go on talking about the end of AIDS ,while HIV remains one of the leading causes of death among women, especially among young women and girls in developing countries. 

“From the smallest community clinic, all the way to the national health programs and at the international level, we must keep the promise to women by ensuring that they are empowered and able to access reproductive and health services, including HIV treatment, testing and prevention without long waiting times and without fear of intimidation and stigma.” 

Besides, Dr. Greg Abiaziem, Acting Country Program Manager of AHF Nigeria is of the view that ‘‘conscious effort to ameliorate the challenges that women face in accessing quality healthcare, the need to promote safer sexual conducts, including women’s ability to negotiate safe sex and education to reduce transmission of HIV from mother to child must be structurally put in place while we must invest our efforts and resources into what is been proven to work – test and treat, and a comprehensive prevention strategy.’’


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