Victor Olaore Omoshehin is the National Coordinator of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. He is a graduate of Project Management from the University of Lagos. In this interview with PharmaTimes Corespondent – ‘WAIRE EMONEFE, he talks about his experience so far living with the virus, and the challenges that people living with HIV/AIDS face.
What is NEPWHAN all about?
NEPWAN is the mother body of all persons living with HIV. Our vision is to strengthen the capacity of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country so that they will be able to contribute to the national response. We advocate for the welfare and interest of people living with HIV. Basically, we promote universal access to treatment and ensure that everyone living with HIV has equal access to treatment without any form of bias, prejudice and discrimination.
How long have you lived with HIV and how has your health been so far?
I have lived with HIV for 15 years now. I am doing well and I’m taking my medications. I have been hospitalised only once in my 15 years of living with HIV and it was due to stress.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with HIV and what was the experience like?
I discovered I had HIV when I was 21 years old and in the university. I never had any symptoms or signs. There was a lot of awareness around that time on HIV/AIDS and I seized the opportunity. I walked in and did the test. Of course, like every other person who is taking a life changing test for the first time, my anxiety was high. Those days you had to wait a long time for your results but thankfully that has been shortened now. After finding out, I kept it to myself for a while and whenever I saw my friends in a cluster and talking, I would always assume that they had found out and were talking about me. It was a very anxious period for me. I remember a particular incidence where my friend called and asked what was wrong with me because I had so many pimples on my face, and I froze and thought in my mind that it must be the virus bringing out all the pimples. So, it was a very anxious period for me.
How did you handle that anxiety?
I came out and talked about it. Since I did that I have been very free and confortable. I disclosed my status to my family less than 3 months after I was diagnosed. I also channelled my energy to positive and productive things. So, I became an activist for young people; advocating for access to information including sexual reproductive health, treatment and preventive measures. Over the past 15 years, I have been doing this and I feel really fulfilled. I have been particularly invested in the slum committees because they are a lot of factors that make youths from the slums very vulnerable. From over-population, many hotels and brothels and drug users, the youths there are highly vulnerable
Some people living with HIV are lax in taking their medications, what would say are the benefits of taking the anti-retroviral drug?
The anti-retroviral drug is very helpful. When you take your anti-retroviral drugs, you will be very strong and your viral load will be undetectable. The drug helps to send the virus from your blood stream and boost your CD4 count which is your body immune system. This will help you to fight infections. So you are healthier, stronger and your body’s ability to fight infection will be stronger. You won’t be prone to other infections and diseases like tuberculosis. You also have to be careful that you take your drug at the right time with the right dose and quantity. There is also no reason to hide from people when you want to take your drugs. You need to be comfortable with your treatment. Be strong and confident about yourself. Any individual living with HIV should be able and willing to take their medications 100%.
As National President of NAPWHAN, what would you say are the major challenges that people living with HIV/AIDS face?
Apart from access to treatment which I think that with the intervention of PCN and ACPN has been getting better, the other challenge that people living with HIV face is stigmatisation. This challenge is caused by human beings not the virus. Even with the anti-discrimination act, which the former president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan signed into law, a whole lot of people living with HIV still face stigmatisation in the work place. Many are denied jobs because of their status. They should not be denied a job and the means to provide for their families just because they are HIV positive.
Being positive does not make us less human. The virus only affects our immunity and not our humanity. So, I use this opportunity to appeal to companies in the private sector that still engage in this act to stop it. The government alone cannot stop stigmatisation even with laws, these laws have been passed for quite a while now but a whole lot of companies in the private sector have still refused to adhere to it. It is a criminal offense to deny an individual that is competent, possesses the right skill to do your job, the opportunity to serve or to work just because he/ she is HIV positive.