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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid