Rose Ejembi, Makurdi

Some young people living positively with HIV in Benue State have lamented the challenges they face being on treatment.

While some of them are having challenges with accessing drugs, others have decried the challenges they are battling with on daily basis, in terms of stigma arising from their disclosure of their HIV status.

According to one of them who simply gave his name as Goodness and would not want his picture to be used, the young people especially adolescents living with HIV are sometimes asked to pay user fees in health facilities before they can access their drugs.

“The ARV drugs are supposed to be free but then, when the young people proceed to the adult clinic, they now demand some certain amount before you’re attended to.

“It’s a challenge because most young people who are unemployed may not have that money and once they don’t have that money they go back home without taking the drugs and that can increase their viral loads which can expose them to other opportunistic infections.

Some invited guests at the event

Asked how many times a PLWHA is expected to access drugs in one month, Goodness said a patient can access drugs based on his or her health status adding that while some go once in a month, others go twice in a month.

Goodness who has been living with the virus for more than ten years now since he was a child disclosed during a recent event organized by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) in Makurdi, the Benue State capital as part of activities to mark the 2019 World AIDS Day that another issue they face is that of disclosure.

“For the person living with HIV he must disclose to his friends about his status so that he can be confident to take the drugs in their presence.

“The parents also have the responsibility of finding a way to inform their HIV positive children else, the child may become stubborn and not take his drugs because he is in the dark as to why he should be made to take that drug on a daily basis.”

Recalling how he got infected with the virus, Goodness said he got to know about his HIV status while in Primary six in 2009, that was four years after the death of his mother.

“My mum died in 2005. Before she died, I recall that she was always falling ill and taken to the hospital and when she eventually died, we thought that she had died of tuberculosis.

“Four years after she died, I started falling sick too and was in and out of hospital several times. My dad became worried and took me for various tests. It was then that it was discovered that I and my brother were HIV positive but dad was not.

Goodness said initially, his dad thought it was witchcraft that killed his wife and was also trying to cut short the lives of his two children until test proved otherwise.

“I was about ten years when I diagnosed HIV positive and I didn’t know how or what it felt like to be HIV positive so, I didn’t feel anything.

Goodness explained that it was while he started attending series of training that he got to know that tuberculosis which killed him mum is an opportunistic infection of HIV.

He however has a throng message for young people who are living with the virus especially those who are contemplating suicide as a result that, “HIV is not a crime, choose your life.”

On her part, another participant, Blessing (not real name) said she almost took her life when her uncle whom she went to live with after the death of her parents started telling everybody who cared to listen about her HIV status.

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“Soon after the burial of my parents, my uncle took me to live with him in Gbajimba in Guma local government area of Benue State.

“And because I thought he was matured both in statue and in mind, I sat him down and told him that I was HIV positive so that he would not hear the news elsewhere or keep wondering why I will always be on drugs.

“That disclosure seemed to be the greatest mistake of my life as my uncle not only drove me out of his house, but also kept telling everyone who cared to know about my HIV status. I almost committed suicide as a result of this but thank God I braved it all and here I am today.”

Blessing thus encouraged young people who are living with HIV to be careful who they disclose their status to and always talk to counsellors whenever they are passing through any kind of discrimination.

“If you’re a young person and you’re facing any kind of discrimination or stigmatization as a result of your HIV status, please, don’t bottle up your pain, talk to health counsellors about it because beating your pain alone can lead to something untoward,” she said.

When Peter (not real name), a young farmer from Daudu village in Guma local government area got married to his heartthrob, his joy knew no bounds.

In fact, it was another level of joy when after a few months of their marriage, his wife announced to him that she carrying their baby in her womb.

But their joy soon became almost truncated with the frequent illness of his wife who was then placed on local medication to cure her from her ailment.

“Initially, we thought she was falling ill because of the pregnancy so we placed her on local concoction. But when the sickness continued, I had no other option than to take her to the hospital. It was there that they conducted HIV test on her and discovered she was positive.

Peter when said he was also invited to the hospital and counseled on the need for him to also take the test, he agreed and it was discovered after the test that he is also HIV positive.

He however rejoiced that early detection of his wife’s status helped so much as their baby was delivered safely and after a while, was tested and found to be HIV negative.

Speaking during the event, executive Secretary of Benue State Action Committee on AIDS, Dr. Gideon Dura said there is need for people to have the correct and right knowledge on how HIV is transmitted

Dura who was represented by Mr. Tersoo Shapera who lamented that up till nowadays despite the level of awareness, some people still think that HIV is transmitted through witchcraft. He therefore harped on the need to have the correct and right knowledge on how HIV is transmitted.

AHF’s Advocacy and Marketing Manager, Steve Aborishade who spoke on the overview of AHF plans and projections regretted the challenges of young people who cannot take permission from their schools to visit the clinic for checkups and also access their drugs because most of them are stigmatized for disclosing their status.

“And that’s why AHF is keen about the implementation of the anti stigma law in the state (Benue). We all have a duty to protect ourselves and our neighbours,” Aborishade stated.

Representatives from the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development as well as from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) promised to always support those who are facing stigmatization as a result of their HIV status by ensuring they get justice.