By Abiesmwense Moru
As Nigeria prepares to mark this year’s World AIDS Day, Dr Akhalia Momodu of Diamonds Medical Centre, Abuja has called for more awareness creation on HIV/AIDS to reduce the risk of contracting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People living with HIV/AIDS are at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of the state of their immune system. There is the need for more sensitisation to help people know how the two diseases relate,” he told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), on Sunday in Abuja.
Momodu said that awareness creation had become necessary because people no longer bother about HIV/AIDS.
“People no longer worry about HIV/AIDS. They only worry about COVID-19 pandemic and observe its protocols. It is good to remind everyone that HIV/AIDS is still there and has no cure as yet,” he said.
He explained that HIV/AIDS patients could be exposed to other diseases during the pandemic, hence the need to take more precautions.
He further explained that a person living with HIV, who was not adherent to his or her drugs, could worsen the situation.
Momodu said that COVID-19 could also pose a lot of risks to someone already living with HIV because “every opportunistic infection is always going to worsen the situation which we try to prevent every now and then”.
According to him, there are many people that do not want to go for checks.
“I think what we should do is to reorganise, carry out more campaigns, more symposia and there should be time to carry out test for people.
“With the COVID-19 protocol on social distancing, many people do not want to go to the hospitals not to talk of checking their status. I think a lot of people are just afraid of going to the hospitals to conduct test,” he said.
The medic explained that because of economic challenges, most people have refused to go for test not knowing that it was free, except in some private hospitals.
“I think campaigns are still needed to let people know that HIV/AIDS is still there and is killing people hence the need for caution.
“Among young Nigerians, many just seek fun through sexual intercourse. We need awareness so that people may know that HIV/AIDS still exists.
‘There should be more campaigns,” he emphasised.
On addressing HIV/AIDS issues, he said that Nigeria had done very well for sometime.
“In the hospitals I have visited, there are people coming in for their drugs; even the younger ones do so. But we still need to do more.
“The only way to do more is to run campaigns again through social media, radio, television, among others, for people to know HIV/AIDS is still there.
“People need to volunteer and agree to go for the test as it is free and the drugs are also available.
“In fact, I have seen a lot of couples that are doing very well and they are able to raise up grown up children that are healthy without being infected,” he said.
Momodu expressed displeasure at some religious perceptions that discourage patients from adhering to their drugs.
“In terms of religion, l have seen some cases where someone goes to a religious house and the prophet tells him or her not to take drugs anymore.
“They will tell the patient ‘you have been healed, I have prayed for you and everything is okay’. The gullible person will just stop taking the drugs.
“Such patients will just stay away from the drugs and before you know it, everything will get worse.
“There is a situation of a woman, who was in a religious house for seven days doing fasting, no food, no drugs and nothing.
“Before you know it, her situation was deteriorating with diarrhoea, ulcer, cough, among others. When I saw her, she was in a very terrible state.
“We just had to counsel her, start all over again. But when the situation was getting worse because there was no one to take care of her, we had to refer her to her state.
“This was because her mother requested for her and promised to care of her as she takes her drugs.
“We are still handling two or three cases like that where religion is still hindering people from taking their drugs,” he said.
He advised that it was important an infected person took his or her drugs with faith and believe all would be fine.
“So, going to the Church or the Mosque does not mean you should stop taking your drugs . You should have faith. Taking your drugs by faith means everything will be fine.
“These are some of the problems we are also facing and we have to educate them more on adherence to drugs and never to fall victims of so called prophets,” he said.
On strategies adopted to minimise mother-to- child-transmission of HIV, the doctor explained that during antenatal, all necessary screenings were usually carried out, including HIV.
“During the screening, when you discover the mother is infected and not on drugs, you have to start her on Antiretroviral (ARV) drug and monitor her to ensure she adhered to her drugs.
“When she gives birth, we administer Noveapine for the baby as the mother continues her drugs.
“We counsel them in terms of breastfeeding and use of formula meal, that there should not be any combination. You are either doing exclusive breastfeeding for six months, or you want to use formula.
“This is because food combination may expose the baby more. We counsel them very well to be aware of any danger posed to the baby, if they are not careful.
“We also monitor the baby from to time to time for six weeks as they come for check-up, and there is always follow up and all that.
“I have a patient that gave birth at my former hospital, she has my contact and am still monitoring her and the baby as they are doing very well.
“These are the possible ways of preventing mother-to-child-transmission of HIV,” he said.
On whether babies could contract HIV from breastfeeding, Momodu said that babies can never contract HIV from breastfeeding as far as the mother was taking her drugs accordingly.
He further said that it was very safe and advisable for the mother to breastfeed her baby.
“Apart from HIV, breastfeeding is one of the best ways of feeding babies as it prevents the baby from other exposure and other infections.
“As long as the baby is being fed on niverapine and the mother is on her drugs, there is no way that baby can be infected.
“We have so many women that have given birth like that and their babies are healthy” he said.
On advising the public on HIV/AIDS, he said that it was necessary to let everyone know that HIV is still very real.
“It is among us and living with us.
“The good thing about it is that when you are tested and found positive, it is not the end of anything because once you are on your drugs, you still live the number of years you want to live.
“There are many positive people that I know living healthy lives. Until they tell you, nobody knows.
“I will advise people to go for test every six months. When you know your status, you can never worry about anything as the drugs are readily available.
“As long as you adhere to the drugs, you can live long.
“It is good you go for test as HIV is a silent killer just like other viral disease such as hepatitis B. We should be aware of those killer diseases and volunteer ourselves.
“Even as a medical doctor, I do screen myself because of the exposure, to be sure am okay. So we should not shy away from it. Volunteer yourself to be tested,” Momodu advised.