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Nigeria opens 1st needle exchange to curb HIV

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By Timothy Akintola

Programme to help curb the spread of this blood-borne disease.

The 2019 Nigeria National HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey indicated that as at 2018, 1.9 million persons were living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria. It is however necessary to understand that this issue is far more prevalent within the nooks and crannies of the country. Recent INODC survey on the prevalence of HIV in Nigerian prisons indicates that 2.8 percent of prisoners and another 9 percent of persons that inject drugs all live with HIV and AIDS.

Current number of HIV victims in Nigeria makes the country fourth most affected in the world. According to the Drug Use in Nigeria Survey, the virus’ rate among injectable drug users, which is now 3.4 percent has increased more than double the 1.4 percent national average. Reports as of 2018 also indicated that there were about 80,000 injectable drug users in Nigeria. A previous drug user, Abiola who was convicted over his drug use whilst disseminating his experience and addiction journey, noted that all it took was him taking a few puffs from a friend’s cigarette which was laced with cocaine.

Needles given out to about 2,739 people by the organization.

In 2020, the Federal Government approved the first Needle Syringe Exchange Program in three states. Though small, has led to an immense shift in the attitude to drugs in Nigeria where the possession and use of these drugs are punishable offenses. This move evidently showcases an increasing international shift. In a a report released by the Harm Reduction International in October, there was a significant rise in needle programs, drug consumption rooms and opioid treatments in over two years.

The Nigeria Pilot Programme which launched in Oyo, Abia and Gombe States in July, was delayed by the ravaged pandemic, as well as the logistics between the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Ministry of Health. This initiative is being led by Goodworker Ministry International in Ibadan, where staff visit numerous abandoned buildings frequented by these drug users for the collection and exchanges of syringes, in a bid to educate people about the program. The organization has however given our needles to over 2,739 persons.

This programme also cautioning people against drug usage.

On the processes enacted in the ongoing program, Olabode Kolawole, one of the monitoring and evaluation officers at Goodworker Ministry International, noted that the accrued experiences had been alright. He stated that immense patience was required in the understanding of the stories of these victims, as understanding them helps shape paradigms by which they can be educated. The project workers are saddled with the responsibility of advising users as to the safer methods of taking these drugs, measures to take in the event of an overdose, as well as important measures of staying healthy.

Habeeb, who has been a drug user since 13, noted that the program had been of great help to him, stating that the program was helping him to gradually resist indulging in it. However, the program is also helping significantly to caution people against the use of these drugs. Nigeria presently has harsh sanctions against the use and possession of these drugs which are rigorously enforced. The possession of cocaine or heroin for example can lead to 15 to 25 years imprisonment. Best Ordinioha, a professor of public health and community medicine in the University of Port Harcourt pointed that too much meaning should not be read into the government’s approval of this program, as the governmental agencies still see the usage and possession as a huge criminal offense. In the prevention of HIV, Best noted that there was a need for change in attitude.

Synergy between NGO and primary health care sector a necessity.

The project manager of Oyo’s Agency for the Control of AIDS, Dr. Olukayode Ogunkunle noted that the Federal Government was aware of the significance of the project and would extent it across other states. He however pointed out that funding was a major problem that the program was faced with. He stated that more funds had to be advocated for, if the program was to be sustained. Tunji Agboola, founder of Goodworker also solicited the support of the general public. He stated that the synergy between the NGO and the primary healthcare sector was a necessity, to help in the penetration of more locations.

Related Link

UNODC: Website

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