In Nigeria’s Rivers State, in the Niger Delta, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among the highest in the country. Poverty, the oil industry and a lack of awareness about AIDS have all played a role in the spread of HIV.
Dr. Emi Membere-Otaji, the commissioner of health in Rivers State, says the prevalence of HIV in the region is seven-point-seven percent. He says the rate has risen dramatically over the last few years. Dr. Membere-Otaji says since oil has polluted farmlands and fishing areas, there is little for the people to do. As a result, he says, many parents offer their daughters to oil workers, hoping to get money for food and school through prostitution. He says even married women will turn to sex work. He also says many young people, those between 15 and 49, engage in risky behavior with migrant workers, because otherwise there is little for them to do for entertainment.
Despite this, the Rivers State health commissioner believes Nigeria is on the right path to turning things around. He cites a recent rise in awareness and a greater commitment by government to supplying AIDS drugs and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Dr. Membere-Otaji spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua from Port Harcourt.