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How promoting HIV self-testing in communities reduces prevalence of AIDS

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As part of measures to achieve zero prevalence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome among young people in Nigeria, youths across different tertiary institutions have set out to implement HIV self-testing solutions they developed in communities.

According to recent statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), young people are at the epicentre of an expanding HIV crisis, with the second largest number of new HIV infection in the world.

The report further indicates that the number of young people in Africa is estimated to double by 2050, yet fewer than one in five Nigerian youths have never been tested for HIV, with many adolescents engaging in risky sexual behaviours with multiple partners, which puts them at higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including HIV. The youths who were engaged in an HIV Self-Testing Designathon contest tagged ‘4 Youth By Youth’ developed different effective and innovative prevention tools and approaches that would be employed in communities to help reduce the spread of HIV among their group in Nigeria.

Director of Research, NIMR, Dr. Ezechi Oliver, who is also one of the Principal Investigators, ITEST project, said the aim of the project is to ensure that youths in Nigeria know their HIV status and remain healthy, as the recent report showed a reduction of HIV prevalence in the country, with young people being the group with the higher population of HIV new infection.

He said the youths were engaged in an innovative contest to develop workable solutions that would enable young persons in communities self test for the virus as well as access immediate treatment if tested positive.Oliver said the selected three teams will go into communities to implement and practicalise the HIV self testing tools they developed, after which the research institute will scale up the idea and implement it across the country to be able to achieve total elimination of the viral disease and new infections.

Explaining the project, one of the Principal Investigator, Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor, said the youths were engaged in a four-week training innovative bootcamp that had over 900 young people from across Nigeria enter for the contest, with 13 teams and 45 innovators participate in the HIV Self-Testing Designathon competition to mark the World AIDS Day.

Iwelunmor who is an Associate Professor in Global Health at Saint Louis University, Missouri, said this would fulfill the Nigerian strategic objectives of increasing access to HIV testing services and other sexually transmitted diseases among young people in Nigeria. “4YBY used open challenge contests and capacity building workshops focused on activating innovation and entrepreneurial mindsets and skills to harness the innovative spirit of young people in addressing health challenges that affects them. Our ultimate goal especially among the young people is for them to be the leaders and partners of promoting HIV self-testing in Nigeria,” he added.

Also speaking on the importance of the project to the reduction of HIV prevalence in Lagos state the Representative of the Lagos State AIDS Control Agency, (LASACA), Dr. Oladipupo Fisher, said with the world looking towards the eradication of HIV by the year 2030, there is need to engage the youths who occupy the larger part of the country’s population and the group with the higher risk and number of new infections in developing solutions that will totally eliminate the virus to reach the global target. He said Nigeria must ensure it achieves the first 90 per cent target of the UNAIDS, that allows people to test for their status and know where they stand, which if tested positive, they will commence treatment, which will then suppress the viral load of the disease and prevents transmission to other people.

He explained that the agency has partnered in this initiative, which will enable it to effectively scale up its plan to reach the youths and ensure they access treatment, which he noted will suppress viral load of the disease.


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