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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

    

 

THE IMPACT OF HIV/AIDS ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

 

Being Text of a Paper presented at a one-day HIV/AIDS awareness rally organized by PROJECT HOPE at Inter-city Comprehensive College, Bauchi on Tuesday, February 3, 2004

By

Emmanuel I.A Ivorgba

(Executive Director, PROJECT HOPE)

Historical  Background:

HIV/AIDS is an indubitable fact of global and human history. Though  the  origin  of this pandemic has not  been fully established by the  relevant  authorities,  by all indications, however inaccurate  and  conservative, HIV/AIDS is currently  the leading cause  of death in Africa and the fourth most  common  cause  of death globally. It is global in its reach and affects all levels of human experience. Statistics  indicate  that  at the close of  1999,  about  34.3 million  people worldwide were  living with HIV,  5.4 million  were  newly infected that same year, while about  18.8 million had already died from  AIDS.  16,000 new infections are said to occur daily. More than 95% of these infections and other reproduction health problems occur in the developing world.  The consequences of these are numerous, ranging from great suffering, pain and death, with accompanying negative effects on national growth and development.

With a human population estimated at more than 120 million, Nigeria is indeed ranked as the most populous nation in black Africa. Since the first reported incidence of HIV infections in the country in 1986, there has been a consistent increase in the prevalence of HIV from an estimated 1.8% in 1993 to about 5.4% in 1999.  About 2.6 million were said to be living with the AIDS virus in 1999. This figure has today skyrocketed to more than 5 million.  Current  estimates  predict  HIV prevalence rate in Nigeria to be approximately  10% of  the  sexually  active population,  and these figures are even higher among high - risk groups and in  certain  geographical locations. Documented evidence shows that our beloved nation is in great jeapardly for explosive growth of the epidemic beyond high - risk groups and it the commonly classified low - risk general populations. Reasons commonly advanced for the increasing prevalence rate include poverty, ignorance, increasing urbanization, poor government policies and denial of the AIDS virus, among others. States in Nigeria most affected include Benue, Taraba, Lagos, kano, Anambra and Akwa- Ibom.

This article attempts to project into public domain, by means of authentic and honest analysis of the practical realities on the ground, the devastating consequences of HIV/AIDS on our collective social existence, growth and national development.  Particular attention shall be focused on the commercial sex workers in two northern states of Kano and Bauchi, for very obvious reasons. It is pertinent to note that the paper is not intended to ridicule any group of persons, but to make an honest assessment and presentation of the facts and figures, with a view to proffering concrete suggestions, which when accepted in good faith and translated into positive actions, would bring about the desired natural growth, lasting development and progress.

  

Situation Analysis:

Kano and Bauchi states have alot in common. Both are in northern Nigeria, with a distance of approximately 290km between them. Their inhabitants are predominantly Muslims, constituting more than 70% of the total population. Of particular interest is the fact that two areas in kano and Bauchi bear almost the same name. There is Sabon-Gari in Kano metropolis, which literally means “New town” or “settlement” and Bayan -  Gari in  Bauchi,  which literally means “ Back of the town”. Sabon-Gari is situated at the eastern terminal of Fagge Local government Council headquarters within Kano metropolis, while Bayan-Gari is in Bauchi Local government area of Bauchi State.  The population of Sabon - Gari is approximately 1.2 million, while Bayan - gari is home to about half a million.  Both are cosmopolitan. The residents are predominantly the business class and constitute a significant proportion of the economic life in Kano and Bauchi states.  Both are renowned for social life.

There are a large proportion of commercial sex workers, popularly known as prostitutes in these areas.  A mapping  and site  inventory  carried  out by  PROJECT  HOPE in February 2003, identified  over 250 spots where sex  service providers  can be easily located in Sabon - Gari kano alone,  and about  160 spots  in  Bayan-Gari Bauchi.  They can be found can and patronized in places which include hotels, Brothels, clubs, motor parks, and the so-called “cool spots”. Some live in rented apartments for year of the sharia legal system. These female sex workers have multiple sexual partners, use condoms sparingly or even lack access to it.  Their clients are mostly youths between the ages of 15-30, students, drivers and even married men. The situation is compounded by inadequate health facilities and little    or no public health information for the prevention of the HIV Virus.

The mapping and site inventory also showed the female sex workers to number between 5000 - 8500. About 68% of them are young girls between the ages of 15 - 25 yrs. Most of them provide sex to between 10 -15 clients daily, beginning from as   early as 8:00am to about twelve midnight. Some go beyond this hour provided the clients keep coming. Their charges (fees) lie between N100 to N200 per a round, and this depends on whether the condom is used or not. A client is asked to pay more without the condom. It is like paying more to have the disease. Sometimes additional charges are paid to have the women remove their clothes completely. The younger ones charge between N1000 to N2000 per a night, while the older ones, usually referred to as ‘second rates’ charge between N500 to N1000 per night. If the number of clients per every female sex provider is multiplied by the population of the sex providers in Kano and Bauchi alone, and multiplied by the number of sex hours per each sex provider per day, over a period of say six months, the reality becomes painfully unbearable. The same thing can be said about Oturkpo in Benue state, Kaduna, Jalingo, Calabar, Akwa, to mention but a few. Who will save us from this holocaust?

A Review of the Possible Causes of HIV/AIDS.

There is a school of thought, and a religion one for that matter, which says that the existence of HIV/AIDS is a consequence of divine wrath and punishment to disobedient and rebellious humanity.  Whether this is a Truism is not, the theologians have not established the premise. Though many things could be said in this regard, I do not think it is necessary for us to get involved in long and protracted arguments about our experiences, especially when it is obvious that they are brought about by our own deliberate sins and disobedient actions.  That God does not and will not punish his creatures with evil is certain, even in the Holy Books. Certain issues are obvious and simple enough to comprehend and I wish to mention a few of them here very briefly.

Man’s responsibility upon the earth, according to God’s original plan, is to care for this beautiful creation that God has so freely given us.  Much of the problems experienced in our societies today are due to our failure to appropriately discharge our responsibilities. It is obvious that people who indulge in excessive alcoholic consumption must be sure to encounter difficulties with their brains and problems with their lungs and respiratory system. Adulterers and fornicators must also be prepared for the psychological damages and disappointments that go with the act.

Nobody can eat his cake and still posses it. God made sex to be honoured, to be cherished and loved, for procreation and for his glory, between a husband and a wife, to be shared in the privacy of marriage. Today, all over the places, towns, cities, and villages, sex has been abused, profaned and misused. Sex is today, according to the words of a great philosopher, being “thingified”. Sex is now sold for money and unfortunately to sickness and disease.  This is a tragedy that threatens the very foundations of human existence.

Another factor advanced for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is poverty. This is not completely true and should not be used as an excuse. Poverty, like ignorance, is never an excuse or guarantee for evil. We must remember that God in his infinite wisdom has provided other genuine means by which human needs or obligations can be met in society. Hardworking, genuine efforts coupled with total dependence on God’s providence, and not prostitution, will provide lasting peace, unchangeable happiness and comfort that we all need. How does one explain  the irony that many of those who patronize prostitutes in our towns and cities today , are wealthy and highly placed citizens, some of who have more than four wives in their homes.

Neither is it the problem of ignorance. This is playing with the situation. Government  all over the  world, and  here in Nigeria since 1999,  the present  administration of  president - Olusegun Obasanjo, Constituted the presidential committee on AIDS  and the National  Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) ,  which has been  replicated  at the states, and local government levels. And with the launching of the Interim Action    plan (IAP), there is a new and authentic multisectoral approach that is very comprehensive and pragmatic to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nigeria. With the assistance of the media, numerous NGO’s, CBO’s, CSOs, community leaders and corporate bodies, the campaign has gone even to the hinterlands. Nigerians are not ignorant of the AIDS Virus. Infant many Nigerian languages today have special names for it. For instance, it is called “ Cutar Canjamau” in Hausa ,  it is known as “Obina - ajaocha” in Igbo, etc. Our problem ,  rather than ignorance, is  more that  of  stupidity,  obstinacy and deliberate lack of  maturity  and  self  - control.

In the recent past before now, most people in Nigeria, especially in the Northern part of Nigeria believed HIV/AIDS was a fabrication and propaganda of the west, especially the United States of America and Europe, designed to curtail population explosions in Africa and the developing world.  Any attempt to discuss it was vehemently resisted publicly and privately, but surprisely by community leaders.  Anti - HIV/AIDS campaigners were also seen and branded variously as agents of the West. In the past, any unexplained sickness and deaths were either said to be mysterious or caused by the enemy.  With  increased awareness  and enlightenment    campaigns by the present  regime, at  all levels, this  attitude  has changed  drastically, especially  when many people, have had to witness the pain,  agony and death of their relatives and loved ones, due to  HIV/AIDS.

  

The Impact of HIV/AIDS  on  National Development

Attempt has been made in discussing a few of the possible cause of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, at least in passing.  It is pertinent  at  this juncture to briefly highlight  the consequences and impact  of this  pandemic on our  collective social  existence and national development,  in the light of  prevailing historical  circumstances.

1.         The Health  care Impact  of HIV/AIDS:

HIV/AIDS is no respecter of persons or positions. It strikes men and women in their prime, and affects the rich, poor, the powerful and the powerless, the secured and the marginalized. The ramifications of its effects are numerous and frightening.  There is the certainty of death. It kills slowly but surely, the young and the old, rich and power, literate and illitrate, township dwellers and villagers alike. The tragedy that confronts our nation today is that the youths who constitute the productive labour force of our great nation are dying gradually in their thousands daily due to AIDS.  We watch hopelessly, helplessly and desperately as future leades are today ravaged, devasted and completely annihilated by this unrepentant virus, despite persistent warnings by the authorities. Who will build our country? Who will carry the Nigeria flag together with the dreams of dear founding fathers?

In some major Nigeria cities such as Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Ibadan and Port Harcourt, etc. AIDS victims occupy more than half the hospital beds. This claim can be confirmed by a visit for instance, to the infections disease hospital (IDH) located in Kano. Out of the 158 patients admitted in the hospital in two of the wads, between January to July 2003, 87 were said to be living with the AIDS virus, out of which 15 were terminal cases. In the face of accelerating demands caused by increasing numbers of people with full-blown AIDS, our national health systems seem grossly incapacitated. Moreso, the financial commitment, as estimated at more than $ 1 billion by the World Health Organisation (WHO), for the treatment of AIDS victims in developing countries lies beyond our national budget. Even if this is possible other sectors that also require development would suffer and cripple.

2.         The Social Development Impact of HIV/AIDS.

            The sub-saharan African is said to be the poorest region on earth, with the greatest HIV/AIDS figures in the world. With development efforts already grappling with the problem of poverty, the impact of HIV/AIDS is deepening existing poverty and creating new pockets of deprivation and need throughout the region. HIV/AIDS is making the greatest inroads in this region and some of the gains of development efforts are also beginning to erode.

            In Nigeria for instance, considered to be a continental giant and a key to regional stability, the social and economic impact is gradually decimating key government and business elites, undermining growth, and indirectly discouraging foreign interests. The rise in HIV/AIDS is gradually exacerbating population decline, with severe health consequences on the nation, generating greater difficulties for our economy, sparking tensions over priorities of expenditure and promoting manpower shortages. Sicknesses and deaths caused by HIV/AIDS has led to a reduction in existing skills, absenteeism and reduced performance on the job resulting to a sharp drop in productivity across the country. Statistics show that the loss of both skilled and unskilled workers combined with uncertainties regarding those who are or might be infected is also generating great problems with recruitment and capacity building initiatives. This has also raised some critical human rights questions associated with employment, hiring and firing, as well as entitlement to benefits. It is been projected that if this is not checked, our industries will suffer in the long term and be crippled. Even as whole generations of able-bodied men, hard-won expertise and experiences are wasted away to HIV/AIDS epidemic, Nigeria and indeed the Africa continent, is gradually witnessing a dramatic reduction in the quantity and quality of food producers.

3.         The Educational Development Impact of HIV/AIDS:

Education is the greatest requirement for change and the greatest force needed for societal development. Recent researches have shown that the educational sector is among the most affected by HIV/AIDS. Statistics indicate that a large proportion of Nigerian children, particularly the females, have been dropping out of school, in order to support and care for sick relatives. Some have already lost one parent or the other. “Six out every ten that have already dropped out of school tend not to return because they have nobody to make provisions for them. “(Source: Voice in the Wilderness Our Sponsors ”, June 2004, P.5).

While this is happening to our children, the educators themselves are gradually falling sick and dying, leading to an unquantifiable erosion of our intellectual capacity without any serious replacements. The disease remains highly concentrated among students, especially in institutions of higher learning, where risky sexual behaviours are driving infection rates upward at a precipitous rate. The disease has built up a significant momentum especially among students addicted to hard drugs and substance abuses and is spreading to wider circles through heterosexual transmission propelled by the frequent movement of such students from one geographical location to another within the country.

4.         The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Community life:

            Practices associated with private and intimate behaviour of individuals in community have been greatly affected by HIV/AIDS. Most individuals have been forced to re-evaluate their traditions and attitudes as a means of survival. The Panos Dossier reports that ‘behavioural charges are occurring in areas where public education campaigns have been held’

            The country continues to witness persistent rise in the quantity of those orphaned or widowed by AIDS, traumatized, poverty stricken and dejected, the tremendously destabilizing consequences, presently and futuristically, coupled with other psychological implications of hopelessness and disempowerment. Those infected and those affected both suffer.

            The social stigmatization associated with HIV/AIDS can be really damaging. This is a very sad and unfortunate dimension that has been added to the HIV/AIDS complex. Seven out of the eleven HIV/AIDS patients we spoke to at the Infections Disease Hospital in Kano in June 2003 expressed the preference to instant death rather than having to confront the stigmatization and social discrimination, even from their immediate family members. These people are part of us. They are our friends, brothers and sisters and so need our support and encouragement. They must be supported, strengthened and encouraged to see beyond their present predicament into the future hope of eternal glory.

            A number of local and international non-governmental organizations such as COPOP, SWAAN, AHIP, FHI and a host of others whose efforts deserve commendations, are seriously involved in providing social services aimed at alleviating the hardship experienced by those infected and those affected by HIV/AIDS. These include, amongst others, the provision of preventive health care and public education programs, providing income generating opportunities for those affected such as Widows and orphans, lobbying for drastic changes in laws so as to support those affected, provision of basic human needs, etc which together combine to minimize the rate of infection of the AIDS virus. These noble effort and sacrifices as well as government initiatives must be supported by all. All sectors of the Nigerian Society must be fully mobilized to support the present anti HIV/AIDS campaign initiatives. The government agencies saddled with the responsibilities for project design and implementation must exhibit a high degree of sincerity and commitment to duty. The citizens for which such programs are intended must also express some good sense of appreciation, cooperation and understanding by rallying round the government and by deliberately avoiding those practices that aggravate the spread of the virus. This is one battle that must be fought and won by all of us.