Experts raise alarm over rising cases of HIV/AIDS among children, adolescents

Experts in HIV/AIDS medical services have given the high sign over the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS among children and adolescents particularly against the background of the COVID-19.

They also lamented that essential health services that could prevent the scourge are accessible to only one in three pregnant women in Nigeria.

In His Presentation, the Assistant Director, National Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) Lead at the National AIDs & STIs Control Programme (NASCP), Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Dr Olugbenga Ijaodola, emphasised that it has become necessary to remove barriers hindering pregnant women from accessing PMTCT services.

Ijaodola posited that HIV positive pregnant women must be placed on treatment and encouraged to deliver in health facilities as this will ensure positive babies are identified on time and treated.

Ijaodola disclosed these at a three-day Media Dialogue to reinvigorate and produce a work plan for members of the Journalists Alliance for the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (JAPIN) in Calabar, Cross River State.

The dialogue is organised by United Nations Children Funds -(UNICEF) in partnership with the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

As the PMTCT services are domiciled in public health facilities, about 59 per cent of pregnant women in Nigeria still deliver at home which constitutes an automatic factor that excludes them from the needed HIV/AIDs preventive service measures.

Data from the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018 shows that while baby delivery from two per cent of pregnant women takes place elsewhere, only 39 per cent of delivery occur in health facilities.

Ijaodola said to reverse the trend, the country must work towards eliminating user fees for pregnant women “by strengthening the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS)/State Health Insurance Schemes (SHIS) to include PMTCT/Reproductive Maternal Newborn Child Adolescent Health plus Nutrition (RMNCAH) into the benefits package, using the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF).”

He called on governments at the sub-national level to ensure their intervention through the procurement of Rapid Test Kits (RTK) for HIV testing.

Against the background that the incidence of HIV/AIDS among children is still prevalent in Nigerian communities, the medical expert similarly called on pregnant women to access the services of PMCTC.

While highlighting some challenges hindering women from accessing care in public facilities, he noted that many Nigerians have lost confidence in the health care provision system because of the negative attitude of care workers and poor health-seeking behaviour among citizens.

Also in her presentation, the Chief Consultant and an Associate Professor in Infectious Disease and Respiratory, at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Dr Etana Ewa, lamented that HIV/AIDS is a major cause of infant and childhood mortality and morbidity in Africa.

Globally, out of the estimated 37.9 million persons living with HIV/AIDS, 1.8 million are children under 15 years.

She charged media practitioners to intervene promptly in the suspected HIV/AIDS cases involving children in their communities.

She said: “I see the journalists as advocates and counsellors and that means once you see a child losing weight or a child who is too weak, you need to speak lovingly to the parents and let them just access a health facility.

“Any health facility that sees such children will do a HIV test and we move from there.

“The good news is that there are drugs, after a positive test result, a lot can be done as these drugs improve the survival of the affected children.

“All we are targeting now is to reduce the viral load and improve survival for these children until we have a cure for them and the drugs work, we need to encourage the people we meet in the communities.”

Ewa also advised those on HIV Anti Retroviral drugs to take seriously their medication and should stop the habit of stopping their drugs halfway when they feel fine after some time of treatment.

“There’s no drug for HIV yet and Anti Retroviral Therapy(ART) will not cure HIV infection but will completely manage the infected patients if medication is properly taken.”

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