DETERMINED to achieve the eradication of HIV/AIDS by year 2030, the Lagos State AIDS Control Agency (LSACA) has engaged religious leaders in the state in a two-day sensitisation workshop on how to prevent the virus and handle stigmatisation issues.
The sensitisation programme which is very critical to the success of the war against HIV/AIDS was put together for Christian and Islamic religious leaders in the state in appreciation of enormous roles they play in the lives of members of the public, especially in guiding, informing and advising their teeming followers.
In his welcome address at the workshop, Dr. Oluseyi Temowo, chief executive officer (CEO) LSACA, said that in the times past, getting infected with HIV was the equivalent of a death sentence.
“But this is not the case anymore, Having HIV is no more a life sentence, especially if the person eats well as recommended and takes all the drugs as prescribed.”
Lamenting that many young adults now see no abnormality in selling their body for money, injecting drugs and indulging in risky sexual behaviours in the process, the LSACA CEO said the onus is on the religious leaders, whom he said the people listen to and respect most, to bail out the country from the quagmire. He said moral decadence is increasing among the youths and other members of the society through unprotected sex and abuse of drugs hence the agency needs to engage the religious leaders to help in cascading HIV/AIDS awareness among their congregation.
He stressed that religious leaders are critical stakeholders in the campaign to eradicate the scourge.
“This is why we are calling you, our religious leaders. We want you to preach to them in the church and mosque that because there is no money today does not mean that there will be no money tomorrow. Let them know that God is against selling our body because our bodies are the temples of God. These are the teachings we want you to pass down to your subjects, either in the church or in the mosque, such that they will have it at the back of their minds. Once we can control sexual behaviours, I believe we are on the road towards stopping this menace by 2030,” he enjoined the religious leaders.
Speaking on circumcision, Dr. Temowo said while it is good for men, it is unnecessary for women. Even for men, he recommended that religious leaders should educate their followers that the best places to circumcise male children are the hospitals where safe and sterilised equipments are used.
Maintaining that any circumcision not done in the hospital is dangerous, he called on faith leaders to discourage their subjects from patronising homes where their children may be infected with HIV in the process of circumcision.
He also warned that the country is also battling with issues of same sex relationships, injection of drugs and commercial sex workers, which he said are avenues that predispose those indulging in the aforementioned acts to being infected with the virus.
The people we used to call prostitutes now call themselves as commercial sex workers. We need your intervention and all the things you can do to help so that Nigeria will not turn into Sodom and Gomorrah. May God give you the wisdom as pastors and imams to deliver these messages back home,” he said.
In his lecture, Dr. Oladipo Fisher, head of projects at LSACA, exposed current facts and trends in HIV/AIDS issues.
According to him, “the country is winning the war against the disease, the recent findings by the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), one of the largest household surveys on HIV in the world, have provided the proof to that effect.
While providing basic facts about the virus, Dr. Fisher said HIV – as dread as it is – does not kill anybody.
He emphasised that what the virus only does is to compromise the body immunity and make it vulnerable to all kinds of diseases that can lead to death.
The LSACA head of project also told the faith leaders that the campaign against HIV/AIDS has moved from preaching abstinence to encouraging people to play safe and not indulge in risky sexual behaviours, urging the religious leaders to evolve a pragmatic way of communicating this message to their followers without desecrating the altars of God.
Concerning stigmatisation of people living with the virus, Dr. Fisher admitted that it is still a problem that is yet to be eradicated, adding that it is a practice that is made worse by cultural issues.
If it continues unchecked, stigmatisation is capable of reversing the gains recorded in the fight against HIV, he emphasised.
He said stigmatisation makes people not to want to come out for test, which is dangerous for the person and entire society.
While enjoining faith leaders to educate their followers on HIV/AIDS, he also reminded them that it is an offence in the state to discriminate against anyone based on his or her HIV status because the law has recommended two years’ imprisonment as penalty for anyone found guilty.