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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora