PrEP: Danger as HIV discourse takes the back seat

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PAUL OKAH writes on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) as innovations in Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention and treatment and tries to find out why discourses on HIV and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) seem to be taking the back burner.

Years ago, news on HIV and AIDS made headlines and dominate the pages of newspapers, TV stations and radio houses. However, nowadays, hardly do you read or hear anything about HIV/AIDS in the media, sometimes even for months.

Why have Nigerians suddenly lost interest in HIV? Does it mean that the virus or disease is no longer with us in Nigeria or has it suddenly taken a flight out of Nigeria?

Those have been the questions of concerned health experts who are bothered about the sudden silence and the lack of attention paid to the issue about HIV/AIDS by the Nigeria media of late, especially as discourses on the virus appear not interest Nigerians anymore.

Experts train journalists

Alarmed by the sudden loss of interest in discourses about HIV/AIDS by journalists and media houses, on Friday, May 14, a media organisation, Internews Network, in collaboration with health experts, held a one-day intensive training on HIV Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) and Post- Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for journalists.

Addressing participants at the training, the lead trainer, Anselm Okolo, lamented that discourses on HIV have taken the back burner in national issues and no longer embracing pages of our national dailies, hence the need for reporters to revive interest in HIV reportage, especially with the innovation of PREP and PEP as a mechanism for HIV prevention and treatment, respectively.

He said, “The media played a great role in ensuring that HIV positive people are no longer stigmatised. Unlike before, you would see people being afraid of disclosing their HIV status; as a result of stigmatisation and the misconceptions associated with the virus, especially the perception that it is a death sentence. However, the media changed all that with the right reportage.

“Unfortunately, the issue of HIV appears to be neglected by media houses nowadays. In fact, if you check the Nigerian media, be it TV, radio, print or online newspapers, you may not read a single story on HIV in a whole month. Does it mean that HIV no longer exists in Nigeria? Of course, the answer is ‘no’ because the virus is still very much with us. So, reviving interest in the existence of HIV in Nigeria should be the focus of journalists.

“In fact, it’s due to lack of interest in reporting issues about HIV that’’ the reason for the poor awareness of people about PREP and PEP. PREP is a new innovation in HIV prevention and journalists should be able to build discourses around it, especially with regards to how Covid-19 has impacted on HIV. Therefore, we have a long way to go in creating awareness on many innovations concerning HIV, hence this training for journalists by health experts.”

Health experts’ take on innovations

Also speaking, a consultant clinical microbiologist with the National Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Philip Nwajiobi-Princewill, said the development of self-testing kits is a new innovation in the prevention and treatment of HIV, even as he took participants through on the processes, advantages and disadvantages of using different test kits.

“We’re doing well with regards to HIV positive patients assessing drugs. Over time, we had challenges with regards to stigmatisation, but the development of self testing kits has helped a lot. Presently, you can test yourself to know your status; without going to queue in hospitals. The advantages of self testing kits are so numerous to mention, including anonymity, easier for people to use, being a master of your own, among others.

“Nevertheless, you will still need to go to the hospital for a confirmatory test even if you test positive or negative while using the test kit. The major disadvantage is that we don’t know how couples will react when a partner tests positive while using the test kit. However, the self-test is not confirmatory, but just for you to be guided; in order to take steps in visiting the hospital for confirmation as some may still test negative in the hospital, even after testing positive while using the test kit,” he said.

Similarly, the PrEP DECAP Advisor, Dr. George Ikaraoha, said PrEP is used to guide against HIV infection, especially with regards to occupation, environment, among others, whereas PEP is administered to many people, depending on experiences, especially rape victims or survivors.

“PREP and PEP are innovations in HIV prevention and treatment. There is a three-day window period after a rape incident, so survivors are given PEP up to 28 days. However, PrEP is used to guide against HIV infection; depending on your occupation, location, among other factors. PrEP is majorly the use of ARVs or Anti Retroviral drugs by people who are HIV negative; in order to prevent contracting the virus.

“Oral daily PrEP is available in Nigeria at the moment, while the injectable is yet to come into the country. PrEP should be taken daily for 7 days or as long as possible; provided the person has risk of exposure to the virus. It should be noted that PrEP and PEP are used by HIV negative persons. However, you will get PrEP and PEP in hospitals provided you meet the requirements,” he said.

‘Media houses need to generate revenue’

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, the advocacy and marketing manager of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Mr. Steve Aborisade, said media houses tend to pay more attention to news that can generate revenue, but that “HIV hardly falls into that category.”

He said, “HIV coverage fatigue is one important reason discourses on the virus appear to be taking the back burner in the Nigeria media… And that’s because of the lack of innovation covering the disease. Interestingly, this should be when serious coverage should occur as there are innovations in treatment, new milestones being achieved and new challenges unheard of being experienced by populations most affected.

“On the other hand, new epidemic and pandemic like Covid-19, Ebola have also come to share of the headlines and compete for attention. All of these in a media environment struggling to survive and facing a conflict of what to prioritise and staying afloat. So, attention goes mostly to issues with revenue generating potentials.

“But attention must come to HIV. More than ever, we must focus on a grown population of adolescents, who have known HIV all their lives. We must focus on the mental toll of remaining on a lifelong treatment by those who have been taking ARVs for the past 20 or more years. It is my opinion that journalism should be done right, maybe this problem would be less noticeable.

“We must prioritise children, who still gets born HIV positive and adolescents who are Ill equipped with information and knowledge to navigate their sexual maturity in an environment silent on sex and about a youthful population with the mindset to explore and be more open about their sexuality and its expression, who see nothing bad in being different and whose sexuality the society has outlawed and who must live their lives.”

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