By Emmanuel Ndon
Ask the diehard critic to choose between facts and figures he’ll certainly go for the latter. Everybody likes statistics! The high numbers will certainly lend credence to his motives no matter how ill intended. This explains why the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said; “There are three kinds of lies : lies, damned lies, and statistics “.
This saying means that “statistics can be used for very wrong purposes and the persuasive power of numbers can assist to strengthen weak arguments “. Now you understand why some people catched in on the Nigeria HIV /AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) data to drive home their scores. The report as published by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) a few months back indicated that Akwa Ibom State has the highest HIV prevalence in the country with about 5.5 per cent of people testing positive to the virus in the state. According to NACA, the North -West zone has the lowest prevalence rate at 0.6 percent, while the South -South zone has the highest with 3.1 percent out of a total of about 1.9 million Nigerians currently living with the virus.
Ordinarily, when situations like this arise, it only calls for stocktaking and proper evaluation. If it becomes a matter of concern – as it ought to be, then hands would be on deck. ‘Where did we go wrong? What did we not do well? ‘And other such appraisal stuffs other than the hurried bandying of statistics for cheap political gain. The problem of HIV /AIDS has remained a recurring decimal since the virus first broke out. Before the advent of the present administration, Akwa Ibom State had already been on the higher national figures. In 2014, for instance, the national sentinel survey placed the state at 10.8 percent HIV prevalence, one of the highest rates. By this time Udom Emmanuel was not the governor. It was only in 2016, just less than a year when he became governor in 2015, that the State Agency for the Control of AIDS (SACA) was able to conduct a survey that could generate accurate data for the state.
At this point, many indices came to the fore. More than 304,000 persons were identified as having HIV in the state. Out of this number, nearly 270,000 were without drugs , and only 24,000 patients with HIV -related disease were on anti- retroviral therapy (ART). Part of the challenges attributed to the negative performance was “poor funding “. For a whole fiscal year SACA was left without any release of its annual budgetary provision which made basic sensitization and survey impossible.
But all these changed for good. In just one year, the staggering figure had dropped significantly. Between April and June of 2017, a survey on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the state indicated a drastic fall from the 10.8 percent it inherited to 2.8 percent. The survey was carried out across the 31 local government areas and was funded jointly by the state government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under its flagship programme – Strengthening integrated Delivery of HIV /AIDS Services (SIDHAS) and implemented by FHI 360.
A total of 4,313 households were sampled while 7,791 children and 9,145 adults were tested for HIV. The study found that the HIV prevalence among children 0 to 14 years was 0.4 percent while the prevalence among persons 15 years and older was 4.8 percent. The study further revealed a 0.41 percent annual incidence of HIV among adults ages 15 years and older. The number of new infections was said to be closely similar in females as in males (0.41% among females and 0.42% among males). However, the HIV incidence in ages 15- 19 was higher than the rest of the age groups; translating to nearly half of the new HIV infections occurring in the adult population.
The figures above demonstrate the significant achievements the state has recorded compared to the past. But even with these, critics are still coming under the cover of “statistics” to vent their open hatred for the present government. Statistics are not static; they are determined by dynamics of environment. In recent years, Nigeria has had the second largest HIV epidemic in the world with one of the highest new infection rates in Sub -Saharan Africa. According to Avert, Many people living with HIV in Nigeria were unaware of their status due to the country falling short of providing the recommended number of HIV testing and counseling sites. Low access to anti -retroviral treatment remained an issue for people living with HIV, meaning that there are still many AIDS-related deaths in Nigeria. The country also has the fourth largest tuberculosis epidemic in the world, with HIV and TB co-infection becoming an increasing concern for people living with HIV.
But the latest report by NACA indicates a positive improvement. “Nigeria has shown steady progress on increasing access to treatment for people living with HIV, with the adoption of a test and treat policy in 2016. This measure has further accelerated referrals to treatment facilities for people who test positive for the virus. From 2010 to 2017, the country almost tripled the number of people living with HIV having access to anti-retroviral therapy, up from 360 000 people in 2010 to more than 1 million people in 2018.”
Reacting to the prevalence rate in the states, Health Minister Prof. Isaac Adewole, recognizing the dynamics of the situation warned that this is not the time to start blaming states. Rather, he said, “we should also look at the quality of interventions we have had “. For Benue State which ranked below Akwa Ibom (5.3%), Adewole emphatically noted that it has one of the largest interventions programme in the country. “It would have been frustrating if with those interventions we now have 10 percent in Benue “, he said.
But Akwa Ibom State government has remained committed to the cause of HIV /AIDS despite poor interventions. The HIV /AIDS pandemic requires more than a dose of gimmick critic because it is more of a behavioural problem. It has a lot to do with attitude because it is a direct consequence of lifestyle. We need to remind ourselves that the surest possible solution to lowering prevalence rate dwells on the pillars of behavioural change and multi-sectoral approach – and this is where the church comes in.
The first pillar – attitude (behaviour) connotes a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards an idea or situation. Attitude influences an individual’s choice of action and responses to challenges and incentives. According to Collins Dictionary, “your attitude to something is the way you think and feel about it, especially when this shows in the way you behave”. Put the other way, “if you refer to someone as a person with attitude, you mean that they have a striking and *individual* STYLE of BEHAVIOUR, especially a forceful or aggressive one”.
Attitudinally, how does the individual react in terms of assimilation of sensitization messages against HIV? If he goes to a saloon, for instance, does he insist that clippers (and other piercing instruments) are properly sterilized? But the government does put the messages on the media. When it has to do with HIV/AIDS sex is key . But this is purely a personal choice. It is the individual who decides whether to take precautionary measures or not. Of course, condoms use do not eliminate chances of contraction, it only minimizes. Abstinence is best, staying faithful to one partner is suitable, it still boils down to the individual! The government does not live life for the people, but it tells them how best to live right.
The second pillar (multi-sectoral) places a responsibility on the Church and Mosques (this explains the figure in the North). Of late, the church seems to take active part in politics than it has done in morals. Religion has a great influence on the society but surprisingly it has not impacted on the lives of its adherents. For instance, during the 2014 Antenatal Sentinel survey, it was discovered that nearly 7 percent of married men and women tested positive to HIV /AIDS in the state. At a time the state ranked second with 10.8 percent, this means that married couples topped the chart with sex workers surprisingly constituting 4 percent.
The data indicated that most married men and women engaged in unprotected sex outside their marital home which exposed them to the virus. AKSACA Programme Manager Dr Nkeruwem Etok then attributed the high prevalence among the couples to include denial of the existence of the virus and the fact that most of them engage in sex not minding the status of the other partner.
But why should married couples indulge in sex outside wedlock? Are they not still those who raise ‘holy’ hands and shout loud hallelujah in churches? What does the Bible teach about adultery? How could the church not influence the attitude of its members? If you say that this is a failure on their part you may be crucified. But how come there is just a passive interest in inculcating morals than in political participation? What is the Incentive?
But worse than this is the fact that the church itself has become a cog in the wheel of combating the dreaded scourge by claiming cure for HIV/AIDS. This “item” is among the articles in the bogus bag of miracles supposedly performed by the church. By their actions, they have discouraged medical treatment and scientific approach to the disease. Still, the survey identified another group which comprises businessmen and women and government officials who attend seminars and workshops within and outside the country with their concubines. Sure these are not men of ordinary means – they are the directors, MDs, senators, Honourables, etc. You may be shocked to discover that the virulent critics of the latest statistics fall among this category of people. They could still be among those who loot or had looted the common treasury to satisfy their wicked lust.
The response to HIV /AIDS is not the responsibility of government alone. The church must rise to the challenge of attitudinal change among its fold if we are to succeed. The place of the church is seen in the discovery that cities like Abuja for instance, with active presence and involvement of NGOs, including those of the Catholic Church, are not listed with high prevalence in spite of its cosmopolitan nature.
The issue of poverty in the state, as argued by some people as a factor for indulgence particularly by young people, is also not tenable since available statistics show that such states are mostly from the North.
It’s high time we looked inward than dump unnecessary “statistics” on the doorstep of government especially when we are really the culprits. The blame game doesn’t count because, as Oscar Wilde puts it, “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars “.