What Happens When Older Persons Take the Lead in HIV Prevention in This Rural Community
Agunji, a community in Nassarawa Eggon, woke up last week Thursday to an announcement of the town crier (Public Relations Officer). They were called to converge under the mango tree opposite the only Primary Health Center in the village for a medical outreach.
Although the news was announced in the early hours of the morning, many people did not turn up until about 11.00am due to their busy farming activities.
“The people here are majorly farmers,” says Anthony Adzo, the village’s town crier (i.e. PRO).
Adzo is in his 50s. He says he went round the different houses located within the community to inform the people of the medical outreach that was scheduled to take place that day.
Adzo held a small gong and a stick, the tools he used for his announcement. He sounded his gong to get the people’s attention as he walked through the village, and then spoke to the people in Eggon, the local language.
Adzo says there are about 1,000 people, including women and children, in Agunji village. He assured the medical team from the General Hospital secondary health centre that the people would amass for the HIV awareness campaign.
According to one of the members of the medical team, the purpose of the Agunji medical outreach sponsored by an international organization was to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. The team planned to provide free Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) for the people while also informing them about the anti-stigma bill that has been passed into law in Nasarawa state. The law seeks to protect people affected by or living with HIV/AIDS in Nasarawa state from stigma and discrimination.
There are about eighty thousand (80,000) people living with HIV in the state, according to statistics released by the Nasarawa State AIDS Control Agency (NASACA). With a 7.5% prevalence rate, the state currently has one of the highest rates in Nigeria. Medical outreach in rural areas is one of the strategies set up by the state to fight the spread of the virus.
When the one-day HIV awareness campaign kicked off in Agunji that morning, only older persons in the community came to the venue. The villagers said they were suspicious of the intentions of the medical team. After deliberating among themselves, the older men concluded that the government could not possibly have sent the medical staffs to inject them with what will kill them. After a while, the younger age group in the village joined the volunteers to take part in the outreach.