HIV Self-testing Breaks Stigma, Discrimination Barriers In Nigeria

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It is 7pm as I step into a minibar, in an average neighbourhood to speak with madam Ifeoma but as I made to settle into a chair, she frantically signals me not to seat.

I walk up to her and she whispers, ”Madam, you be wan siddon, we can’t talk about ‘that thing’ here now”.

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”My customers may hear us, I no want wahala o”.

I smile and follow her outside as she bellows instructions to her service girl. I make a mental note to remind her she had asked we meet in the shop.

‘But you are not positive now I quip, she smiles and says ‘e no matter o, dem no dey discuss that thing for public‘.

You are wondering what ‘that thing is, right?

Ifeoma, (not real name), a 35 years old businesswoman is scared of discussing HIV/ AIDS in public.

She is worried her story could be distorted if overheard; she only agreed to the interview only if I do not use her real name in the story.

Despite being negative of the virus, Ifeoma’s reservation is not out of place.

Millions of educated Nigerians fear stigmatisation and would not take a test or discuss HIV in public or with strangers.

She said the fear of discrimination and shame from a possible positive result kept her from checking her status for eight years, until a recent nasty STD infection.

Now sitting in the privacy of her car for the interview, Ifeoma tells me an HIV self-test kit saved her the anxiety of testing at a public facility.

”I had a very bad STD; I was too ashamed to go to the hospital at first. I went to a big pharmacy in town, they gave me drugs, I used them but I didn’t get better.

”When it got worse I was afraid and went to the hospital. The doctor treated me and recommended an HIV test but I left because my neighbour works in that hospital.

‘‘I went back to the pharmacist and told him, he asked me to buy a self-test kit, plus the drugs the doctor recommended. He taught me how to use the kit. That’s how I bought it and used oo. Thank God I was negative sha, Ifeoma narrates.

In 2019 the federal government introduced the HIV self-testing kit to the Nigerian public; hoping it could reduce the stigma faced by individuals and encourage more young persons to test.

HIV self-testing is an innovation that allows people take a test using a rapid test kit in the privacy of their homes.

In self-testing, a person is expected to run a swab along their gums to collect oral fluid, which is placed in a liquid solution that provides accurate reading in 20 minutes.

‘‘A non-reactive (negative) self-test result is considered negative and all reactive (positive) results must be confirmed in a hospital,’’ according to medical experts.

Clinical Microbiologist, Dr Philip Nwajiobi-Princewill, explains that the self-test kit is not conclusive but is mostly a guide as individuals still need to visit the hospital if their results return positive.