Researcher identifies HIV mixed status as silent cause of new cases
A medical researcher, Dr Bamidele Iwalokun, has identified HIV mixed status among Nigeria couples as a silent cause of new HIV cases and spread in the country.
Iwalokun, the Head of Immunology and Vaccinology Research Group, Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Ibadan.
The researcher said that the new cases among mixed status partners otherwise known as “serodiscordant” was due to non-disclosure by the infected partners.
“While antiretroviral (ARV) treatment has transformed the battle against HIV in the country, mixed status couples still have a great challenge of disclosure due to fear and anxiety.
“In a situation where one partner is positive and the other is negative, it may be considered life altering and as a result the affected partner may decide not to disclose his or her status.
“However, nondisclosure by an infected partner might affect treatment seeking attitude and thus increase risk of transmission to the other,” he said.
He said that a major challenge to nondisclosure by a partner was the fear of stigmatization and loss of the uninfected partner.
“The infected partner may put off informing the other partner because of fear of losing such partner and also stigma, which prevents some people from disclosing their status to their sexual partners.
“Also the fear of stigmatization has led to those who either self-restrict themselves to access care or do not adhere to treatment when such care is accessed.
“Often times, they miss doses of their pills because they don’t want their partners to know their status and this adds to the burden of HIV,” he said.
According to him, there is need to train healthcare workers and volunteers on HIV discordance.
“Counselling intervention aimed at reducing the risk of HIV should be focused on couple rather than the individual if we are to reduce infection within stable relationships.
“The counselling session should also include determining the socioeconomic status, education, marital status and HIV status of participants.
“This will help to inform opinion on how best the government and other stakeholders can intervene to improve disclosure among mixed status couples in the country,” he said.
The researcher urged government to provide enabling policies in order to improve access to drugs and treatment that would significantly reduce chances of acquiring HIV from a positive partner.
Iwalokun also called for collaborative effort and support among stakeholders including government, faith-based organizations, healthcare providers, to improve health seeking attitude of people living with HIV.
According to him, such effort should be geared towards reducing the fear of stigmatization and increasing awareness.
“The media has an important role to play in improving disclosure, raising awareness and advocating for prevention and treatment policy update,” he said.
The researcher said that raising awareness on the importance of disclosure mean getting tested, seeking early treatment and stopping transmission.
“People need to know the importance of communication to prevent transmission.
“Increased awareness will result in more people knowing that they can do something to protect not only their health, but also the health of their partners.
“HIV does not have respect for social status, gender and sexual orientation and it can affect anyone.
“We need to be constantly reminded that having HIV neither defines nor changes those that have the disease.
“We need to get it out there that a partner’s status does not change who he or she is,” he said.
He called for engaging people living with HIV/AIDS as anti-HIV advocates through focal group to disseminate information on current trends and associated risk factors in HIV serodiscordance.