A network of people living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, have expressed appreciation to the Nigerian government for the law on stigma and discrimination.
The group, known as Cross River State Network of People With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, lauded the government for sustaining the free treatment programme.
Leader of the network, Mrs Cecilia Ofum, said; “I have been living with the virus for the past 13 years and it was made possible through the commitments of the Nigerian and Cross River State Governments to sustain free treatment and enforce the stigma and discrimination law.
“In Cross River, the law has made it possible for those, who before now refused to access the drugs out of fear, to come out and do so. Many Nigerians infected with the virus are living healthier lives.”
Abia State born Hope Meadows, another reactive person, who overcame stigma and discrimination said that the Cross River State Law No.9 2010 and the love of her immediate family made her resolve to access the free treatment.
According to Meadows, “I suffered severe discrimination and stigma from my estranged husband. I am a mother of three and had one of my children before 2008 when I tested positive. It was difficult and I contemplated suicide. It was my mother and siblings, who encouraged me to return to Cross River for treatment.”
She stated that with the assistance of caregivers through counselling and the now free treatment, “I have been living better and I am glad that none of my children, as a result of PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission) contracted the virus. My only appeal would be for government to continue to make treatment free.”
Betty Nkanu, another person, who overcame the stigma and denial said she nearly lost her life.
”The initial stigma where I lived and my own denial nearly cost me my life. But, I thank God that Cross River State and Nigeria did not also deny the existence of the virus. That the government reached out for international support, which was given through the National Agency for the Control of AIDS was good.”
“I am not suffering stigma. However, there is need for intensive campaign so that people can access the services such as counselling, testing and where possible treatment. This will help to curb further spread of the virus,” Nkanu stated.
Dorcas Effiong of the Special Clinic Monitoring Unit, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital said that strict adherence to medication would enhance suppressed viral load to the point where uninfected persons could be protected.
Effiong, who has also been reactive in the past 13 years, said; “I got married after my diagnosis. My two children and spouse are not infected at all. They are free. This is possible because of my determination, the commitment of caregivers and the Nigerian Government’s free drug programme”.
“If treatment was not free and the law against stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS was not enforced, the situation would have been different for me. At this point, my viral load has been suppressed that I cannot infect another person,” she argued.
A suppressed viral load, she noted, was one of the factors, which contributed to Nigeria’s two percent HIV/AIDS prevalent rate.
Like others, Effiong urged those living with the virus to take advantage of the stigma and discrimination prohibition law and access the much needed free treatment.