More Nigerian Youths Open To HIV Test – NIMR

A recent study by the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) found that in just two years, the percentage of young Nigerians who tested positive for HIV utilizing kits for self-testing went from 7% to 80%.

Twenty percent of young Nigerians have used drugs at some point in their lives, according to research done in collaboration with Washington University and the University of North Carolina.

Professor Oliver Ezechi, the Director of Research at the NIMR and the Personal Investigator of the study Innovative Tools to Expand HIV Self Testing (ITEST), lamented the prevalence of HIV among the nation’s youth population during his remarks at the 4 Youth By Youth’s Close-Out celebration in Lagos.

Ezechi warned that nearly 65 million young people lack self-discipline, endangering Nigeria’s future if sufficient control is not exercised.

He said the study began in 2018 with funding from the National Institute of Health, to investigate the increase of HIV self-testing uptake among Nigerians. He said the youth, through a crowd-sourcing contest, revealed to researchers that they preferred an HIV self-tester, “one they can test in the privacy or comfort of their homes.”

Ezechi said that 60 youth research facilitators in 32 local governments across Nigeria enrolled in the study, with over 90 percent of participants followed up for 24 months.

“We’re also happy to mention that now the HIV self-testing is in the guideline of the country and then become part of the national guideline. When we started, it was not in the guidelines. It is now in all pharmacies and chemists, you see HIV self-testing everywhere.

“At a point in time when we started, it was only one test available in the country and it was as expensive as N15,000. Now, you can get kits as low as between N1, 500 to N2, 000. So that’s what this project has done.”

He said the study highlights the importance of HIV testing, as people prioritise positive outcomes over negatives. “It’s crucial to maintain positive results and link those with treatment. Nigeria’s efforts focus on controlling adults, but new infections are arising in young people due to risk-taking behaviours.

Ezechi emphasised the importance of youth-driven, inspired, and implemented youth-driven programmes for young people.

Prof. Juliet Iwelunmor, a Washington University professor, revealed in an overview that HIV testing in Nigeria was at the bottom five years ago, with one in five young Nigerians testing for the virus.

“Many young Nigerians have never heard about HIV self-testing, which was confirmed when we started our study. At baseline, only about 7 percent have even ever tested using HIV self-testing kits. And so now, after following them for two years, testing rates are as high as over 80 per cent.”

The ITEST project suggests Nigeria’s goal of an AIDS-free generation by 2030 could be achieved by increasing awareness among Nigerian youth about their HIV status and linking those living with HIV to care.

She warned that if no one started to pay attention, the shocking results of the survey, which showed that 20% of the young people used drugs heavily, were a ticking time bomb.

Because young people have innovative ideas, it is crucial to include them in programs that affect them, according to Prof. Babatunde Salako, Director General of NIMR.

Dr. Folakemi Animashaun, the chief executive officer of the Lagos State AIDS Control Program, called the ITEST an amazing program that is driven by the community and youth.

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