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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

UNAIDS: Nigeria’s neglect of youth sexual health impeding HIV prevention efforts

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The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has said Nigeria’s failure to cater adequately for the sexual and reproductive rights of young citizens is impeding Nigeria’s efforts to prevent the spread of HIV.

The UNAIDS’ Deputy Executive Director of the Programme Branch, Angeli Achrekar, disclosed this on Wednesday at the 2024 Nigeria HIV Prevention Conference in Abuja.

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The conference, which is hosted by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) is themed: “Accelerating HIV Prevention to End AIDS through Innovations and Community Engagement.”

It is aimed at opening a dialogue on optimising innovative HIV prevention approaches towards achieving HIV epidemic control, the organisers said.

Speaking at the event, Mrs Achrekar said young citizens are a key population that should be targeted if Nigeria intends to reduce new infections.

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The official, who is also an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, maintained that reluctance to address sensitive issues related to young people’s sexual and reproductive needs affected the effective implementation of prevention programmes.

She also said inequalities, fuelled by social rejection and discrimination, marginalisation and criminalisation of communities, and gender-based violence have also continued to harm the HIV response.

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“They hinder access to HIV services including prevention services,” she noted.

Inequality, discrimination

Mrs Achrekar stated that in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women are more than twice as likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts.

According to her, certain key populations, including gay men and sex workers, transgender individuals, incarcerated individuals, and their partners, are still disproportionately impacted by HIV.

She also said: “Nigeria must take urgent action to end the inequalities that fuel the AIDS epidemic. We can do this by removing discriminatory laws that leave people behind because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and changing policies that exacerbate current structural and social inequalities.

“We must stop all forms of discrimination, stigmatisation and the violation of human rights of anyone, anytime, anywhere. When we stop these harmful practices, everyone benefits.

“Despite the availability of a wide array of effective HIV prevention tools and methods and a massive scale-up of HIV treatment in several countries within recent years, new infections among adults globally have not decreased sufficiently as expected.”

Mother-to-child transmission

She also mentioned that prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) has remained low in the country.

Nigeria, according to her, is among the countries with the slowest decline in new HIV infections among children.

She said: “In 2020, there were an estimated 21,000 new child HIV infections in Nigeria, the highest in the world, which accounted for 14 per cent of the global estimate.

“The future of Nigeria’s children cannot be left unchecked; concerted and urgent action must be taken to avert children being consigned to live a lifetime with a virus that is now preventable.

“We need to end the vertical transmission of the epidemic to have an AIDS-free generation in Nigeria.”

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