Community Health and HIV

Nigeria: Working to End HIV

 

Lagos, Nigeria

Without antiretroviral treatment, roughly one-third of pregnant, HIV-positive women will pass the virus on to their unborn or newborn children. And, according to a study conducted in 2013, only about 27 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in Nigeria received the treatment necessary to ensure their children would be born healthy and disease-free.

Children can acquire HIV from their HIV-positive mothers in the womb, during childbirth or while breastfeeding. And although HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was, it remains a serious illness requiring lifelong treatment. No child should be born under that looming shadow, and if the proper medical resources are made available, no child would ever have that burden.

A Salvation Army World Service Office (SAWSO) project in the West African nation of Nigeria is designed to decrease the number of children born with HIV. This is a multifaceted problem requiring a multipronged approach, building on the successes already acheived by The Salvation Army Nigeria's AIDS Project team, which has been working with HIV-positive people since 2006.

Through a combination of awareness-raising, education, antiretroviral drugs, and properly-trained birth attendants, the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be reduced from over 30 percent to almost zero. Expectant mothers may not even know they're infected, so community-based education and testing campaigns are vital.

But that's only one part of the overall puzzle. Outreach to the most vulnerable members of the community is another facet. Among Nigeria's female sex workers, 25 percent -- eight times more than the general population -- are infected with HIV. Sex workers, their partners and their clients account for half of the nation's infected population.

The country's users of injected drugs -- nine percent of whom are believed to be HIV-positive -- also remain largely unreached by prevention programs. In 2010, only about 20 percent of people who inject drugs knew their HIV status, so prevalence among this demographic is likely higher than available data suggests.

To change these troubling statistics, The Salvation Army Nigeria -- in conjunction with its national partners and with support from SAWSO and its generous donors -- plans to test, counsel and treat thousands of pregnant women over the next few years. By 2020, SAWSO hopes to reduce HIV infections among Nigeria's most vulnerable and ensure newborn children can have a healthy, hopeful start to their lives.

HIV is a deadly disease, but it's preventable. Although great progress has been made in preventing and treating the virus, it's crucial to stay vigilant so that those at greatest risk are protected -- and SAWSO remains committed to that goal.