Mohammed Farouk Auwalu – Nigeria

Mohammed Farouk Auwalu, President People Living With AIDS in Nigeria and Yinka Jegede, a student nurse who has AIDS open up to Newswatch Magazine on their lives, HIV/AIDS and how to positively live with AIDS. He and Yinka Jegede and their organization, the Nigerian AIDS Alliance, are enabling Nigerians living with AIDS to acknowledge their illness to their families and communities, form support groups, and participate in educating a nation about their rights and needs. He is a retired soldier.

Mohammed Farouk Auwalu – Nigeria

As the first Nigerian publicly to acknowledge his HIV-positive status, Mohammed Farouk is playing a critical role in shaping the public response to the epidemic by involving people living with AIDS in policy and outreach efforts. As, while this kind of attention to the illness has taken place in other parts of the world, AIDS awareness in Nigeria and West Africa is in a nascent stage. Misconceptions and consequent cruel abuses are prevalent.

Some 5.4 million Nigerians are infected with the HIV virus, and there is potential for a rapid increase in this number according to UNAIDS. While most Nigerians know about HIV, they have not changed their behavior in ways that reduce the risk of infection. This is in large measure a result of misinformation about the illness and its causes.

The Nigerian AIDS Alliance brings together people living with AIDS to form support groups that share information about health, nutrition, and policy. The groups also provide one-on-one and group counseling by trained volunteers, access to medications at subsidized rates, and referrals to a wide range of citizen groups for problems like employment related discrimination. The number of Farouk’s groups is now growing rapidly in Lagos, Onitsha, and Kano.

Collectively, AIDS Alliance members act as a pressure group in Nigeria seeking to ensure that the real needs of people living with AIDS are addressed both in national policies and in the policies of international citizen organizations dealing with the disease. They also raise funds to provide microcredit to members who have either lost their jobs or face financial hardship.

Farouk encourages the development of other support groups for Nigerians living with AIDS, including the Save the World Organization in Eastern Nigeria and the Council of Positive People in Kano. He is starting another group in Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta. (Read more on ashoka).

Interview with the President of PLWA, Nigeria, Mohammed Farouk Auwalu.

Newswatch: Are you really living with AIDS?
Auwalu: Yes, I am HIV positive.

Newswatch: How and when did you know you have AIDS?
Auwalu: Well, because every woman who is pregnant is tested for HIV in a military hospital. That was how my wife was picked up for HIV test when she was pregnant and she was found to be HIV positive. I was later tested and found to be positive too.

Newswatch: How did you react to the knowledge that you and your wife have AIDS?
Auwalu: Well, you know because I don’t have enough of information as at then I thought it was a death sentence. I thought the end has come. But of course the reverse is the case. Because of the psychological trauma, the stigmatization, the discrimination I suffered in the army, I later found the inner strength to speak out and I found out that a problem shared with people is partly solved. I shared my problem with people and I am living positively with the virus now.

Newswatch: Were you thrown out of the military because of your HIV status?
Auwalu: Well, I was not thrown out. But the unfriendly behaviour in the military forced me to resign voluntarily so that I can do a lot of advocacy on HIV/AIDS.

Newswatch: What has this virus made you not to do?
Auwalu: It has not succeeded in making me not to do anything. Rather it has encouraged one to become a man of myself and do what I have got to do as straight as I can do it. (Read more about this interview, and others, on wangonet).

… Recently, 26 HIV advocates from around the world were asked what changes they had seen in the past 12 months; and what changes they hoped to see in the coming year … (Read more on the body).

“Raise the Alarm Loudly”, Africa confronts the AIDS epidemic, by Akin Jimoh, Dollars and Sense, magazine, May / June 2001: We were both standing on the sidewalk, watching the convoy of returning soldiers on their way to the military hospital in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. Amid the noise from the heavy-duty military vehicles and downtown traffic, my companion, Mohammed Farouk Auwalu, a former soldier in the Nigerian army, shook his head and muttered, “Many of them will most likely die soon or be out of the army like me with little or nothing to show for it. A lot of people don’t know that many have died, others are dying, and many are walking in the shadow of death.”

The convoy was returning from one of Nigeria’s many peacekeeping missions elsewhere on the continent, but African wars were far from Auwalu’s mind. He was talking about the specter of AIDS. In his mid thirties and married, Auwalu is now retired, not because he cannot perform his assigned duties, but because he is living with HIV. He currently heads the Nigeria AIDS Alliance, an awareness group formed by people living with HIV/ AIDS. So far, AIDS has killed 17 million Africans. It has orphaned about 12 million children. (Read more on third world traveler).

Africa’s determination to fight HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases got a major boost in April from the continent’s leaders and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. While Mr. Annan proposed the launching of a Global Trust Fund to secure funds to fight the disease (see “Drug price plunge energizes AIDS fight”), African leaders vowed to place the struggle against AIDS “in the forefront and as the highest priority.” Concretely, they pledged to allocate at least 15 per cent of their national budgets to “the improvement of the health sector.” (Read more on Africa Recovery).

… How did it get this bad?

* Migrant labor. The prevalence of migrant labor in Southern Africa has greatly contributed to the high infection rates in Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. As migrant laborers move from one work site to another, leaving their families behind, many engage in multiple sexual relationships.

* Low social status of women. Women account for half of Africa’s HIV-positive population, according to the UN, and the infection rate for women is on the rise. Data from several African countries show infection rates for teenage girls five to six times the rates for teenage boys. Poverty forces many girls and women to trade their bodies for money. Meanwhile, the low social and economic status of women, argues UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, results in a “weaker ability to negotiate safe sex.”

* Lack of open discussion. Cultural and religious inhibitions on the discussion of sex-related issues hindered AIDS prevention at an early stage. Repression against the media also inhibited the flow of information. At an HIV/AIDS meeting in Mexico in 1988, U.S. journalist and science writer Laurie Garrett saluted by name a Kenyan journalist who had broadcast AIDS in formation over an independent radio station. He was arrested within hours. The Zimbabwean and South African governments have also routinely targeted journalists disseminating information about AIDS.

* Lack of quick government action. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a pediatrician and former health minister of Nigeria, says that, even in the mid 1990s, the Nigerian military regime allocated a mere $3,000 annually to AIDS control programs. Now, 5.4% of Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 49 — about 2.6 million people — live with HIV/AIDS. In many African countries, political turmoil and war contributed to a delayed government response.

* Weak health-care systems. In the mid 1980s, most African countries achieved child-immunization rates, to take just one indicator of basic public-health provision, of over 80%. In the following decade, rates fell below 20% in many African countries. Lack of access to basic health services has increased the rate of non-sexual (mother-to-child) HIV transmission.

* Economic austerity programs. The AIDS epidemic began its full onslaught in the mid-to-late 1980s, when the International Monetary Fund imposed structural adjust ment programs (SAPs) on many African countries. Under the SAPs, national currencies were devalued and subsidies to critical sectors of the economy discontinued. With minimal funds available to governments, social infra structure and services, including health services, suffered. Keith Hansen, deputy head of the World Bank’s AIDS Campaign Team for Africa, admitted that SAPs had weakened African economies. Austerity has deprived African countries of the means to fight the epidemic.

* The high cost of drugs. Pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb of the United States, Glaxo-SmithKline of Great Britain, and Boerhinger Ingelheim GMBH of Germany sell their patented AIDS drugs for $10,000-15,000 per patient per year, three to five times the per capita income of South Africa (the highest in Africa).

Uganda, the place where AIDS first struck in Africa, now offers a model for combating the epidemic. The Ugandan government has helped bring about a mini-sexual revolution. In the mid 1980s, it began prevention campaigns on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and started promoting sex education generally. President Yoweri Museveni personally championed the AIDS-control program. Meanwhile, some debt relief and the creation of an anti-poverty program has resulted in a revival of the health system … (Read the rest of this long article on africatower).

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