Religious leaders in Nigeria have been called upon to create awareness amongst their worshipers for the need to get their children and infants tested and treated for HIV.
This call was made during an HIV awareness workshop organised by Faith-based Organisations at Akwanga in Nasarawa state, with the aim of sensitizing parents and community leaders on the need to get infants and children tested and treated of HIV.
Speaking to journalists after the workshop, which was themed: Galvanizing Religious Leaders for Accelerated Identification and Linkage to Pediatric Art – The Grail Project, Rev. Fr. Uche Obodoechina, the deputy Executive Secretary, Caritas Nigeria, explained the reason for the sensitization programme was to make Nigerians become conscious and aware that HIV is also possible with infants and children.
According to Obodoechina, because of the vulnerability of this key population, it becomes imperative on church leaders and critical stakeholders to step in on behalf of these infants who are not able to defend themselves for them to be tested and treated.
“The religious leaders are to raise awareness for the infants and children, and then come to their aide with a view to discover for them their HIV status and immediately link them up to treatment.
“The reason for being in this workshop is to create this awareness, get the children tested and when they are positive, we get them to treatment. When they are not positive, then we are happy, because we will have a generation from of the virus.
“So, that is why I am optimistic that this workshop will yield positive fruits. Participants of this conference should become catalysts who will take this awareness to their various level of encounter, especially where they are working and living. This is not just for Catholics but for every child in Nigeria, because we belong to one God,” he said.
Mr. Stefano Nobile, Forcal Point for Health and HIV, Caritas International, expressed optimism that the inclusion of religious leaders in the fight against HIV, through creating awareness in their religious places of worship will go a long way to putting an end to the epidemic in Nigeria.
He said that with serious attention giving to the testing and treating of women and men who are HIV positive, not much attention has been given to the testing and treatment of children and infants who might be HIV positive, that is why religious leaders have been given the task to create the awareness, for children with HIV to be identified and treated.
Dr. Lanre Olayiwola, Coordinator of HIV Treatment Lead of Caritas organization, explained that they have been in the fight against HIV Aids for more than a decade.
“Now that we have a goal to put the pandemic under control globally by the year 2030, we needed to do a gap analysis and when we did that, we realized that even though we have cover such a distance using the antiretroviral intervention, we still have a lot of gap with children and adulecent.
“We know that there are a lot of children in communities who are HIV positive, knowing fully well that children do not take decisions on their own, it depends on their parents, with the fact that HIV patients are stigmatized in the community.
“So, there is problem in identifying the children. Coming to the fact that religious leaders are men of influence and they have a wide coverage of awareness that is why we decided to use the religious leaders to create the awareness of reaching out to the affected children,” Olayiwola said.
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