News / Africa

Nigeria Aims for Generation of HIV-Free Babies

Mabel Ighedosa, 30, sits with her newborn triplets Isaac, Treasure and Samuel in a ward of the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria, October 31, 2011.
Mabel Ighedosa, 30, sits with her newborn triplets Isaac, Treasure and Samuel in a ward of the Lagos Island Maternity Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria, October 31, 2011.
Heather Murdock
Health authorities say 70,000 children are born HIV-positive in Nigeria every year, and one-fourth of them don't live past their first birthday.  While some officials say they want to make Nigeria one of Africa's first nations to give birth to a generation of HIV-free babies, activists say poverty, stigma and a lack of government support make that goal lofty, if not impossible.

Assumta Reginald was pregnant with her third child when she found out that she is HIV-positive.  Back then, she says, programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and anti-retroviral drugs were not widely available. There was little for her to do but substitute formula for breast milk, wait and pray.

"All of us were living in fear," Reginald recalled.  "So that child was not breast-fed just to avoid the child getting infected.  The child is not HIV-positive but the child did not take breast milk."
 
Global AIDS Figures

  • People Living with HIV
    Adults - 30.1 million
    Children - 3.4 million
  • People newly infected with HIV in 2010 - 2.7 million
  • AIDS deaths in 2010 - 1.8 million

Source: WHO
Reginald says today things are different.  She has regular care and is looking forward to breastfeeding another healthy baby when it's born in a few months.  But she says many women who are HIV-positive in Nigeria don't take advantage of available pre-natal care.

"Some of them are tested HIV-positive and they are crying.  'My life is finished so my baby is going to be HIV-positive.  What am I going to do?'  That woman will walk away from the clinic and try to patronize traditional birth attendants.  And that woman gets her child infected with HIV," Reginald added.

Edward Ogenyi is the national coordinator for the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.  He says 2.9 million people are known to be living with HIV in Nigeria, but more than 80 percent of the population does not know their HIV status.  And for many who do know, drugs are not available.  More than half of the people known to be in need of anti-retroviral drugs in Nigeria don't get them because there are not enough.  

"The culture of voluntary counseling and testing is not there.  It is something that we are still struggling with," said Ogenyi.  "It is only when we can take it up very seriously that we can be sure that we can prevent new HIV infections in this country."

Ogenyi says some women actually avoid public hospitals because of mandatory HIV screening.  Dr. Adamu Onu, a family practitioner in Abuja, says stigma attached to being HIV-positive in Nigeria can put women in impossible situations.  If a woman does not breastfeed her child, she may make public her HIV status and potentially be ostracized.  Worse than that, he says, many women have no choice.

"People expect her to breastfeed and you've told her, 'Well you can't breastfeed your child.' Questions are going to arise," explained Onu.  "And then of course she's from a poor background.  She cannot afford a breast milk substitute.  So what do you do?"

HIV positive women have a 25 percent chance of passing the virus onto their offspring without treatment. Dr. Onu says nearly all the patients who get preventative care have HIV-negative babies.  But he says a generation of HIV-free babies is not a realistic goal, because so many rural Nigerians don't have access to health care.
 
Countries with Largest Number of People Living with HIV Infections


  • South Africa - 5,600,000
  • Nigeria - 3,300,000
  • India - 2,400,000
  • Kenya - 1,500,000
  • Mozambique - 1,400,000
  • Tanzania - 1,400,000
  • Zimbabwe - 1,200,000
  • Uganda - 1,200,000
  • United States - 1,200,000
  • Russia - 980,000

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2009 estimates
However, Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, Nigeria's state minister of health, says with expanding health care operations, public education and a proposed new legislation that criminalizes discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients, Nigeria has the capacity to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

"It's going be tough, but we can do it," said Pate.  "It's not like going to the moon.  The interventions are known.  We have our resources and we also know our partners have significant resources."
 
As Reginald prepares to have her fourth HIV-negative child, she says Nigerian HIV/AIDS care relies largely on fickle foreign donors. She calls on the Nigerian government to "take ownership" of the issue to ensure sustainable care.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid