" ITREALMS: Battling HIV/AIDS with technology

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Battling HIV/AIDS with technology

Features of the week:

The rise and rise of the rate of HIV/AIDS is a threat to penetration of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), reports REMMY NWEKE.

“The global community is fighting hard on two fronts that threaten world peace, stability and prosperity; one, to rid the world of the evil scourge of terrorism and the other to stop the spread of dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus …” Yoshio Utsumi.

That was a lamentation from the Secretary General of the global telecommunication regulator, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations (UN), Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, when he was a guest to the Indian merchants chamber at its second international conference on “Communications Convergence: Bridging the Digital Divide”.

He also noted that ICTs are useful tool for every citizen to demand and secure their rights to information and by bringing connectivity to the inhabitants of remote hinterland at this Information Age is most important in this circumstance that the world is fighting hard on these two fronts.

The Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) no doubt has assumed the most dreadful of all that have ravaged man so far, and is known as a virus that causes the AIDS according to experts. This is a combination of infections that manifest when a person is infected with HIV.

Contracting HIV could be due to four main ways, but not limited to sexual intercourse with infected person, transfusion of infected blood, sharing injection needles, blades and other sharp instruments with any one who is infected with HIV, such as during circumcision, as well as from infected pregnant woman to her baby prior to and after delivery.

Nigeria is a country of over 130 million located in Western Africa and reported to have an estimated adult HIV prevalence rate of 5.8 per cent as of 2001, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), with some 3.5 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS and another 170,000 AIDS-related deaths.

Reports also have it that HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country has continued to increase despite the openness of some victims in order to discourage potential victims and spur campaigns against infection.

It is argued by some experts that if urgent steps are note taken, diseases and precisely HIV/AIDS could be the most obstacle mankind will face in ICT revolutions and growth, thus a threat to the global community which has since transformed into a village, in all fronts. As such, it is obvious that any community suffering from any epidemic let alone HIV/AIDS would not smell any further development.

According to the Chairman, National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS (NACA), Prof. Babatunde Oshotimehin, the origin of this disease in the country dates back to 1986, when a 13-year old girl was identified as a victim and between 1992 and 2001, it has went up to about six per cent.

Though Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) has remained an indispensable tool in passing information and communications by seconds, it therefore behooves that deploying these tools as strategic to combating these two monsters and mostly the HIV and its twin AIDS became apparent.

This probably must have motivated one of the nation’s leading Global System for VMobile communications (GSM) operator, VMobile Nigeria Limited to reposition itself as a partner to NACA, paving the way for the training of some telephone hotline counselors in the country to respond appropriately on this topical issue of HIV/AIDS.

It also follows that the donation of four toll-free telephone lines by the management of VMobile
Nigeria to NACA for HIV/AIDS counseling on phone, has taken NACA to the next level of its campaign given the number of GSM subscribers growing daily in the country.

Outcome of this partnership includes the sending of informative Short Messaging Service (SMS) by VMobile via its 1822 with some message such as “Avoid HIV/AIDS – do not share needles and other sharp objects. Call 08027192783; Do you know about HIV/AIDS? Talk to a counselor, parent, spouse, child and friend today,” among other messages.

The donation seen as a step towards realizing the goal of running this novel system for easy and confidential access to HIV/AIDS counseling in Nigeria helped NACA to commission a specialist organization in the area of counseling to carry out a training programme for the implementers of this aspect of its project.

And in order to optimise the donated lines entailed that four partners be identified so as to implement the project, thus a capacity building programme for Telephone (Hotline) Counselors was conducted in Lagos from May 9 -14, 2005 for counselors and master trainers.

The objectives of the programme are included to equip participants with recent updates on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) with particular emphasis on various interventions, services and referrals available in different parts of the country.

It also tends to build the capacities of trainees to provide counseling and support on HIV and AIDS, 24-hours, seven days a week as well as ensuring that trainees have skills to effectively manage a hotline service in their various target areas.

Other objectives of the capacity building for counselors include increasing the capacities of trainees to track calls and extrapolate information from call data and to train selected trainees as master trainers of counselors.

It is further expected that a two-day review meeting after six months of running the hotline service be conducted, even as the trainees came form a selection of organizations from Abuja, Lagos, Calabar and Kano to include the Association of Concerned Partners for Nigerian Youths (ASCOPANY) Calabar, Education as a Vaccine Against AIDS based in Abuja, Society of Women on AIDS in Africa, Nigeria Chapter (SWAAN) Kano and Youth Empowerment Foundation (YEF)

As observers look forward to review of this project by November this year, the fact remains that AIDS is not only real and evident nowadays in our environment, but people must seek free information and counseling on HIV/AIDS, as availed by this partnership between NACA and VMobile to interface with subscribers on the network and beyond to prevent the spread by whilst spouse are urged to remain faithful to themselves.

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