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Beyond World AIDS Day, Continuing the Work to End HIV in Nigeria

By: Isaac Ejakhegbe, Women Deliver Young Leader

While scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment and laws exist to protect people living with HIV, the work is not over. Worldwide, a large proportion of all new HIV infections occur in people under age 25. In Africa, the burden of HIV among youth is high. Despite this, many young people in Nigeria do not know the facts about how to protect themselves, and both stigma and discrimination remain a reality for people—particularly young people—living with the condition.

Beyond World AIDS Day, we must work together for an AIDS-free generation in Nigeria.

Globally, there are currently an estimated 36.9 million people living with HIV. Nearly three decades after the virus was identified, there is still no cure and it continues to spread rapidly in many places across the globe. Unfortunately, information gaps remain between young people, health systems, parents, and the community in many developing regions of the world.

Interventions for promoting development and reproductive health for young people and women must be implemented by governments and other critical community stakeholders. Otherwise, it will be difficult to scale up social change for youth and women in Africa anytime soon.

The stigma of being seen as promiscuous when infected contributes to the high level of HIV stigma among youth in my country. Too often, people living with HIV are blamed and thought to have had multiple sex partners, and they’re treated as if they deserve what happened to them.

The launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a change of government in Nigeria provide a unique opportunity to engage new stakeholders on issues relating to health, HIV discrimination, and youth development. Hence, ahead of the 21st International AIDS Conference in July 2016, organizations like the Women Health and Action Research Centre are leading the way. Through their youth forum and community engagement strategies, they are calling for greater integration of sexual and reproductive health and HIV services in Nigeria.

There is a critical need for the present Nigerian administration and related stakeholders to recognize the right of marginalized and undeserved groups, including young people, to actively participate as partners in the design of policies that affect their health and lives.

Since most Nigerian adolescents are entering reproductive age, young people need to be introduced to effective and approachable HIV prevention information at an early age. This includes education on condom use every time they have sex. Knowing your status and being able to protect yourself when having sex are important prevention tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

It will take a concerted effort to provide our nation’s young people with the tools and resources they need to have safe sex, get tested, and protect themselves from HIV infection. If we can do this, we can make the goal of an HIV-free generation a reality.

Isaac Ejakhegbe is a Women Deliver Young Leader from Nigeria. He works in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on health promotion, maternal and child health, and gender equality. He graduated with a Master of Public Health from the University of Ghana, Legon and wrote his thesis on gender equality, women empowerment, and contraceptive use in the Western Region of Ghana. He tweets at @wisenobleman.

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