World AIDs Day is a significant reminder of Women for Women International’s mission to provide women with the tools to fight health challenges. Since the inception of WfWI in the Enugu and Plateau states of Nigeria, our program has given education on hygiene, nutrition, and infectious diseases, most especially the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Through this education, the women we serve are working together to build healthier communities with greater capacity to alleviate the transmission of HIV and AIDS.
Through our trainings, participants are educated on methods of transmitting the disease and ways of prevention. We also provide complementary trainings that provide a practical knowledge of healthy living and conducting various medical tests, which includes HIV and AIDS, breast and cervical cancer screening, eye tests and sexually transmitted diseases. In collaboration with relevant health institutions such as Medical Women Association of Nigeria, Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), Mashiah Foundation Center and the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), these medical practitioners complement the efforts of our trainers by treating curriculum topics on health and wellness to participants who are five to six months into the program. Other topics usually discussed include living with the disease, managing HIV positive persons and stigmatization. The essence of the training is to create awareness and stop the transmission of HIV within these rural communities, where poor sanitation and high-risk sexual behavior are prevalent.
In addition to this background education, women are counseled and provided with the opportunity to know their HIV status. Confidential tests are carried out on the program participants, their spouses and/or male relatives by trained medical staff. Women and men found to be HIV positive are given the necessary referrals to health institutions for proper counseling and antiretroviral drugs.
In Nigeria, the gradual spread of the virus has been attributed to shrinking donor support, inadequate domestic funding, and a weak health care support system. Women for Women International - Nigeria may not be able to provide solutions to all these challenges, but as part of our mission to support marginalized women, we sensitize our participants explicitly on what the disease is about and prevention methods. In the past, the ignorance and the poverty that permeates the fabric of these communities contributed to the quick rise of HIV and AIDS, but awareness and quick medical intervention have given hope and a second chance at life to those suffering from the illness.
For the women we serve that are HIV or AIDS positive, stigmatization against HIV/AIDS patients is a significant issue that can cause social ostracism or neglect. Through our HIV/AIDS Counselling and Testing (HCT) training, we have made considerable progress in curbing hostilities and cases of abandonment experienced by HIV/AIDS patients. Maria Lambert (not real name), a participant living with the virus had this to say “I discovered I was HIV positive about seven years ago. I was so disheartened that I refused medication because I knew I was going to die anyway but after the training on HIV and AIDS, I became more strengthened and hopeful that the end has not yet come for me. I have learnt that HIV and AIDS are not the same, and people living with the virus can live till the age of 70. I believe I still have many years ahead to enjoy the laughter of my children and the toil of my labor. I am so grateful to WfWI for giving me renewed energy to live and take good care of herself and her children.”
It is not just HIV/AIDS positive women that are taking part in building a healthier community. Other women are now able to manage and support people living with HIV and AIDS. They participate in groups to assist patients who are too weak to cater for their daily needs by fetching water and firewood, cooking meals and engaging in other house chores. Though these activities are carried out with love, they are cautious of the fact that the disease can be transmitted and have the education to take the necessary preventive care. These women are the future leaders of their communities, and our program’s trainings have led to wholesome efforts to assist and support those infected and curb the accelerated progression of the disease.
Our years of working with socially excluded and marginalized women have reassured us that our program’s health and wellbeing education leads to positive change in these communities. Participants living with the disease can take adequate care of themselves and receive necessary support from their sisters in the program; while others with negative status, by their acquired knowledge, have embraced healthy living in order not to contact the virus and they are also capable to act as caregivers to loved ones living with the disease. On this World AIDS Day, as women graduate from the Women for Women International program and more are enrolled, we are confident that our efforts in creating health and sustainable change will not be in vain as we continue to support and educate marginalized women.