Nigeria launches campaign to curb HIV spread among young persons

The Nigerian government on Monday launched the Youthful Alive and Healthy (YAaH Naija) campaign, an innovative intervention that aims to scale up the uptake of high-impact HIV prevention tools.

The Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Gambo Aliyu, said the initiative aims to deliver high-impact prevention interventions to vulnerable groups.

He added that the initiative will combine digital and social networks.

Represented by the agency’s Assistant Director, Community Prevention and Care, Ezinne Uchendu, he said this will be achieved by introducing HIV self-testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to the most vulnerable adolescents and young people.

Mr Aliyu said young persons are in the centre of reducing HIV infections in the country.

“If we can get our interventions right for adolescents and young people, we will be able to reduce HIV infections in Nigeria,” he said.

Mr Aliyu said the Mode of Transmission (MOT) study launched in 2020 shows that most cases of HIV infections occur in young unmarried people.

“We are using HIV self-test and PrEP to target these groups of people,” he said.

YAaH Naija

According to NACA, YAaH Naija is an intervention that aims to utilise U-report and other digital tools to mobilise and engage Adolescents and Young People (AYP) for comprehensive HIV prevention knowledge activities.

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It said the project will work with AYP peer networks and geo-localisation tools for targeted service delivery, referral, and linkages; support capacity strengthening, evidence generation, and dissemination to achieve sustainable HIV outcomes at scale.

“YAaH Naija is Nigeria’s version of U-Test which is a West African regional innovative intervention by UNICEF,” NACA said.

And like U-Test, YAaH Naija intervention is also supported by UNICEF.

Groundbreaking

Speaking at the launch, the UNAIDS Country Director in Nigeria, Leo Zekeng, said the launch is a ground-breaking event “because it creates an opportunity to engage with young persons.”

Mr Zekeng said despite remarkable progress made in the AIDs response, it continues to remain a health and developmental challenge “because young persons are not in the centre of the response.”

“In 2021, over 38 million adults and children were living with HIV/AIDs globally. It is also estimated that in 2021, we recorded 1.5 million new infections amongst adolescents and adults.

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“In 2021, about 650,000 people died because of HIV/AIDS,” he said.

Mr Zekeng said inequality continues to fuel the AIDS response in Nigeria, adding that young people aged 15-24 represent about 15 per cent of the global population and account for about a third of new infections.

He said more cases are recorded amongst adolescents and young women.

Mr Zekeng noted that comprehensive knowledge amongst young people and adolescents is still low at about 29 per cent.

He said; “I’m excited about the YAaHNaija because it is using friendly technology to ensure we have access to knowledge, services and we can continue to engage young people.”

Primary prevention

Mr Zekeng said although the country is making good progress in putting people on treatment, it is lagging behind in the area of primary prevention.

He said primary prevention is a cornerstone to achieving the 95-95-95 target set by UNAIDS.

In his remark, the National Coordinator of the Association of Positive Youths in Nigeria (APYIN), Aaron Sunday, said this is a movement for adolescents and young people.

Mr Sunday said the intervention has activated all blocks required to address HIV response within the context of preventing and also closing the tabs.

“We are opportune as young persons to be part of this process, leading it at the forefront and we wish to see the success of a Nigeria where the HIV epidemic is controlled and no adolescent and young persons are getting newly infected,” he said.

A representative of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Maimuna Shuaib, said the mandates of the ministry focus on women, children, and young persons.

Ms Shuaib said there have been various advocacies to educate young people on HIV prevention strategies.

“If the young people are healthy, they’d give birth to a healthy generation,” she said.


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