New year resolution, know your HIV status
December has come and gone in the blink of an eye, it seemed like only yesterday! The celebrations, the joy, the fun and the full festivities seemed to happen in a flash.
Everyone is now focused on creating new goals, making resolutions, re-strategising and preparing to face the New Year with renewed vigour. This is the same pattern for everyone year after year, but may I shake things up a little?
Have you ever considered the need to start the year knowing your HIV status too? Why on earth should that bother you? Why on earth should that not bother you? The numbers speak for themselves: according to WHO data from 2020, over 37 million people are living with HIV, which means that one in every 204 people is infected. If you work in an establishment with more than 200 employees, there’s a good chance that at least one of your coworkers is infected, and if you attend a university with more than 20,000 students, there’s a good chance that at least 100 of your colleagues are infected. We have progressed past the stage of believing that we do not have loved ones or close relatives who are infected with this virus, we are also more educated to understand that it is not only transmitted through sex intercourse as many people previously believed; we are now aware that it can also be transmitted through the sharing of sharps, mother to child transmission, cuts, and anything else that allows for blood contact.
I am not oblivious of the fact that a lot of people have failed to get tested on the premise of the fact that “they haven’t had sex before” or “ they are loyal to their partners,” I am sorry to shock you that there are thousands of people who fall into these categories who got tested and found out that they were positive.
As individuals, we must recognise how vital it is to know our HIV status in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones, in 2020 HIV caused the death of 680,000 persons, killing more persons than Malaria. People who had spread the virus to their loved ones before learning they were positive felt even more sad, not because they were positive but because they had also spread the illness to their loved ones. We can all help to end HIV/AIDS by taking responsibility for knowing our status especially as we begin this new year.
The political declaration of the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 was a call on governments of nations to meet the 90-90-90 targets as part of an AIDS-eradication strategy. The target entailed that by 2020, 90 per cent of people living with HIV should know their status, 90 per cent of diagnosed people should be on sustained treatment and 90 per cent of people on treatment should achieve viral suppression.
At the end of 2020 through concerted efforts of various organisations, both local and international, including NGOs, Nigeria was able to achieve 73-89-78, which is very laudable considering the challenge that COVID-19 posed to the world especially for a developing country like ours. However, if you paid close attention to the figures, you would immediately realise that we achieved the lowest in the aspect of getting people living with HIV to know their status, the implication is that we have a lot of people out there who are positive and are not even aware, if you now begin to consider the dangers posed by these individuals when they “unknowingly” go on to spread this virus to more people, we can as well kiss the success we have achieved already goodbye. How then do we now achieve the year 2030 target of 95-95-95? If we are to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we must all work together.
It’s important to remember that HIV testing, treatment, and support services are all available for free at government hospitals. In fact, knowing your HIV status has never been easier than it is now, thanks to HIV self-testing kits that allow you to stay in the comfort of your own home, away from all forms of stigma, and find out your status in minutes. Even people who are afraid of needle pricks can easily get themselves tested using oral kits. It’s time for us to take greater responsibility for our own lives and the lives of those we love. As the new year begins, take a step toward knowing your HIV status and encourage others to do the same.
• Odunsi is the past medical director, Rotaract District 9110 Nigeria.