A Public Health Specialist, Dr Oliver Ezechi, has encouraged Nigerian youths to know their HIV status through self-testing to help in eliminating the scourge.
Ezechi, a member of the Nigerian National HIV Treatment Task Team at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, spoke on Friday in Lagos at a programme tagged: “4 Youth by Youth Designathon 2019”.
The programme was organised by NIMR, in conjunction with the Saint Louis University, Missouri; the University of North Caroline and New York University.
“4 Youth By Youth Designathon 2019” is the first Designathon for health in Nigeria.
It is similar to a Hackathon, a 48- hour event in which young people from all over Nigeria will ideate, design and present their self-devised solutions to social and health issues.
This Designathon is dedicated to developing new services or products that can promote self-testing for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
Ezechi said that knowing your HIV status, especially youths was the best way to help in eliminating HIV completely in the country.
“We are all aware of the recent HIV reports which say HIV has dropped in the country.
“There is a particular group, which is the young persons because new infections are still occurring among young persons, women and young girls.
“If we really want to get to the 9090 targets of eliminating HIV/AIDS, the first 90, meaning 90 per cent of people who have HIV, should know their status.
“The entry point for the treatment is HIV counsel and testing; we noticed that young people are not coming forward to our hospitals and clinics to get tested because of stigma.
“What we are doing today is to bring up a competition in which young persons assemble together, design and get best strategy for them on HIV self-testing,” Ezechi said.
He also said that NIMR was charged for research on national health, and part of the mandate was to bring in international and national bodies on the best move to implement HIV self-testing.
In her remarks, Dr Juliet Iwelunmor, a global health implementation scientist, said their goals were to encourage and let everyone to know their HIV status.
Iwelunmor, an Associate Professor in Global Health at Saint Louis University in Missouri, said that the way by which they could easily know their status was through HIV self-testing.
“Our idea is to work with the Nigerian youths and expand HIV oral self-testing in Nigeria.
“The data basically says one in five youths have never been tested for HIV; they don’t know their HIV status.
“The beauty of our project is that we the researchers do not want to tell youths to go for test, but they can come up with ideas on HIV self-testing.
“The innovation of the self-testing for HIV in Nigeria should be low cost, accessible, youth-friendly and confidential.
“To ultimately make them apply the HIV self-testing, the idea we are having today is to bring in young Nigerians between the ages of 14 and 25 years.
“For the next couple of days, we will be working with them to design products, services and technology which will make their fellow Nigeria youths to also embrace self-test for HIV,” she said.
Iwelunmor said that about 127 entries from Nigeria youths were submitted, but 13 youths were qualified to showcase their ideas and techniques.
“After sharing their ideas and techniques, they will move to the third phase, which is the entrepreneur phase; we are going to work with them.
“HIV testing usually occurs in so many places, especially in clinics settings, but we find out that many young people do not show up for testing.
“HIV self-testing kits will help people to do the testing in their privacy and get their results within 20 minutes,” she said.
Also speaking, Dr Joseph Tucker, an infectious diseases physician, said that HIV self-testing would help every Nigeria youths to know their HIV status.
Tucker, who works with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the aim was to create health services that were more youths friendly.
“We discovered that across sub-Saharan Africa countries, many of their focus is on adult and thereby neglect the youth.
“We need to involve youths in eliminating and preventing HIV in Nigeria,” he said.