A TRIPARTITE collaboration among the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Gombe State government and some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has led to a significant drop in Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) among youths in the state.
The feat was achieved through mass media enlightenment programme sponsored by UNICEF Nigeria, Starwood of the United Kingdom (UK) and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
At a review of the scheme executed under the theme: “Intensifying HIV prevention to Out-of-School Youth (OSY) Project” in Gombe, the Project Coordinator, Mr. Paul Banbe, said the intervention of the stakeholders had changed the behaviour of 200 youths in the state, with some of them becoming peer educators.
The District Head of Bolari, Alhaji Garba Abubakar, said OSY sensitised youths in the community on the dangers of HIV and how to prevent them. “HIV infections are dropping in the community because of increased awareness. This is because of awareness created by the OSY Project, prospective couples in Bolari community have to submit a mandatory HIV status report before marriages are now contracted”.
He added that religious leaders had been integrated into the project where Imams are encouraged to preach messages on HIV.
The sponsors of the project said HIV/AIDS had been a major challenge to Nigeria’s development, which had affected the key macro-sectors of the country’s economy.
They said the HIV prevalence among Nigerian adolescents is high among those in the 15 to 24 years age bracket.
About one-quarter of Nigeria’s population has reportedly declined from six per cent in 2001 to 4.2 per cent in 2008 and falling below the national value for the first time in 2005.
Also, Nigeria in 2008 had the third highest number of young people living with the virus globally while orphans from AIDS stood at 2.23 million.
It was against this backdrop that in April 2010, Starwood supported Children and AIDS Section of UNICEF Nigeria with funds to implement a pilot project on HIV prevention among young people, who were out of school.
The project used radio drama programmes and sports to provide comprehensive HIV prevention information, lifestyles and referral for services to the targeted persons in Gombe, Kaduna, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states in 2010.
Banbe told The Guardian that the organisers used education entertainment, drama and broadcast on television and radio, cartoons, interactive talk shows and football matches to win the hearts of the youth.
A peer educator, Joy Joseph (23), said: “I lived carelessly before but now as a peer educator, I am responsible for the life of my peers and I have learnt to control my behaviour; drug addiction, alcoholism among young people have reduced and unwanted teenage pregnancies have reduced from 10 to five in my area”.