By Gloria Ikegbule
On Sunday, May 15, Save Our Needy, an international non-profit organisation, joined the rest of the world to mark the 33rd International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. The theme of the event was Light Up The Beach.
Save the Needy is a non-governmental organisation that, the reporter learnt, has contributed positively to the lives of many disadvantaged women, children and young people through its education, empowerment and sensitisation programmes.
The event, which was held at the Eden Bar, Elegushi Beach, Lagos, served as an avenue to honour all those who have passed away from AIDS. It was to also enlighten participants on the issue of HIV/AIDS as well as have an interactive session with an HIV victim, Chioma.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), if left untreated, can lead to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Since 2000, around 38.1 million people have become infected with HIV and 25.3 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses as recorded by The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).
Chioma, like some innocent Nigerians, got infected at a tender age of three after receiving a blood transfusion at death point. According to the young lady, she only got to know she was HIV positive at age 15 when her parents took her to the hospital. Then she was in secondary school and was always falling ill and losing weight. Though she has been living with HIV ever since, she has been able to live through the years through the benevolence of the government, her family and the positive determination that she would live above the circumstances.
“The free HIV antiretroviral drugs supplied by the Nigerian government have kept me going all these years. However, I have also enjoyed the support of my family, friends and fiancé. At the moment, I am engaged to be married soon, and have the mind-set of not letting my status prevent me from living a fulfilled life,” Chioma explained.
Addressing participants in the relaxed atmosphere of the beach, Mr. Motunrayo Adebayo, a facilitator from the Lagos State AIDS Control Agency (LSACA) gave basic HIV/AIDS education. He talked about methods that HIV could be transmitted, how to protect oneself, how to handle condoms and keep them safe as well as the need to end stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS. He also talked about the best behaviour to adopt when one is around or living with a person already infected with HIV.
His words: “It is impossible to contract HIV through hugs, sharing utensils, food or even kissing, and people living with HIV should disclose their status to their partners to prevent further spread of the disease. However this is risky, as many people have lost their partners after disclosing their status.”
And speaking about the preservation of condoms, he noted: “Condoms that were left unused for a long period of time, kept in wallets or even in back pockets have lost their potency and are dangerous to use,” he said.
Richard Emerenwa of One Champion was on ground to shed more light on the current sad state of the Nigerian health system and the need for drastic reforms and investments in the sector. He also explained to participants the need to sign the petition on the one.org website that urges the Nigerian government to increase budget allocation to the health sector under the theme “Make Naija Stronger.”
The event ended after the participants had lit candles as a symbol of respect for all those who have died from AIDS. Marvella Odili, the CEO of Save Our Needy, told the reporter that she felt so fulfilled to have organised such a successful event. She expressed optimism that next year’s programme would be more successful.