Government agencies and Not-For-Profit Organisations came together for a conference at Nicon- Hilton Hotel in Abuja for the first National HIV Prevention Conference that lasted 3 days - November 28 - 30h 2016. The conference provided an opportunity for all those involved in the prevention of HIV at the national as well as sub-national level.
In his welcoming remarks, Dr. Sani Aliyu, the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) said “Nigeria bears a significant portion of the global HIV burden. Through this conference, Nigeria is leading the way for fostering reflections, galvanising knowledge that are geared to bridge the prevention gap in Nigeria.”
The conference attracted scores of supporters and sponsors. The first day was dedicated to youths and was organised by the Society for Family Health. There was an overview of HIV response amongst young people in Nigeria (presented by NACA). The youth summit also had a capacity building session as well as a skills building workshop.
After the Youth Summit, the next day was filled with numerous programmes that were running concurrently. There were professionals and experts from sponsors and supporters of the conference. Among them was the Federal Ministry of Health, United Nations, Management Sciences for Health, Institute of Human Virology, The World Bank, USAID, UNAIDS, Silver Lining Initiative, Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, The Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Society for Family Health and a lot more.
In one of the sessions themed “Towards the First 90: Leaving No One Behind”, Dr. Sani urged everyone to move from policy to practice. He mentioned that most people only test and there is a big problem with adherence to drugs. He encouraged health practitioners to support their patients and form self care groups for those living with HIV. Ms. Assumpta Reginald, National Coordinator of ASHWAN (Association of Women with HIV and AIDS), shared her experience with Abia/Taraba Mentor Mother experience. The project was focused on leaving no mother behind. She noted that the project was focused on prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and AIDS.
In another session, targeted at key populations showed research done in Ibadan on poverty, sexual practices and vulnerability of female sex workers to HIV/AIDS. This was particularly interesting as some of the sex workers may use alcohol or other addictive substances to ‘cope’. The presenter explained that while their mental health is not the primary concern, the former sex workers have psycho-social activities and other relaxing techniques.
Overall, the conference was very informative and it is important to note that the supporters and sponsors present recognise the link between HIV/AIDS and Mental Health. In one of their presentations they noted that some of the people living with HIV/AIDS are prone to depression, alcohol/substance abuse and even suicidal ideation. It is therefore imperative to not only continue to treat the physical BUT the mental health aspect so as to have a more holistic approach. As Dr. Han Kang from USAID said, “In as much as we should test and treat, we should also test and prevent.” This includes those found negative and prevention of any mental health issues that may come up due to the diagnosis. This is indeed a reaffirmation of Gede’s work towards the integration of mental health and HIV/AIDS.