Okwuosa on HIV AIDS

No Comments » December 28th, 2006 posted by // Categories: HIV/AIDS-in-Africa Project




January 11, 2005


The Guardian editorial on HIV/AIDS scourge


By Jerry Okwuosa


HE Guardian editorial entitled: “Tackling the
HIV/AIDS scourge” published in the The Guardian of Wednesday, December 15, 2004
must not stop eliciting eloquent commendations and commentaries considering that
the AIDS pandemic now constitutes a profound human tragedy in Nigeria. Relying
on the recently released statistics of both the Federal Ministry of Health and
United Nations Development Programme UNDP, the said editorial drew our attention
not only to the threat posed by the dreaded scourge to national development but
to the fact that it brings about a serious reduction in the nation’s workforce
and manpower.


Your editorial did
well to corroborate the UNDP report that the most ravaged group of people in
Nigeria is the Nigerian young between the age bracket of 20 to 24. But your
editorial was silent on UNAIDS’ report released on July 6, 2004 which stated
that three million persons died in 2003 of AIDS (The largest number of infection
since the disease started in 1981) and that one Nigerian is infected with HIV
every minute that passes and that with about one 120 million population Nigeria
contributes 10 per cent of the World’s AIDS burden.


The problem of
HIV/AIDS in Nigeria is not lack of HIV/AIDS information or statistics. Of course
many of us can reel out shocking HIV/AIDS statistics in Nigeria. I remember that
about two years ago the Project for Human Development (PHD) was invited to
deliver a HIV/AIDS prevention lecture to junior workers of a certain company in
Victoria Island, Lagos. We were rudely shocked to learn later that about 60 per
cent of the junior workers who participated in the lecture were HIV positive. In
fact the company doctor told us that one junior worker tested HIV positive on
the second day of the lecture. So, AIDS lurks in our midst. We see it everyday.
Therefore, our problem is not lack of AIDS information.

The real problem
of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria is the unsatisfactory way with which government, National
Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) and its chairman, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin
have chosen to fight it. You see, the national policy on HIV/AIDS/STIs dated
published December 1997 and issued by the Federal Ministry of Health under the
Policy Objectives stated that prevention of sexual transmission is the vital
thrust of HIV/AID/SSTs control in Nigeria and the strategies for achieving this
control shall include: abstinence from sex until marriage, mutual fidelity by
married couples and condom use.

The tragedy is
that even though the government and NACA recognise abstinence and mutual
fidelity as the means that offer the best protection against HIV/AIDS, the same
government and NACA still go on channeling all their resources and energies in
promoting condom use especially among teens and students and ignoring of
abstinence and mutual fidelity. The ZIP U billboard campaign is tricky and
misleading because the same people who promote the promotion the ZIP UP campaign
are the same ones distributing condoms to kids. Promotion of both ZIP and condom
is tantamount to worshipping both God and mammon. The point is that abstinence
and condom use are not mutually exclusive strategies in fighting AIDS. No
sincere organisation can be promoting both ZIP UP and condom because the two are
strange bedfellows. While abstinence offers 100 per cent protection in AIDS
protection, condom, if used properly, might reduce the risk of HIV infection.
But condom cannot stop the HIV virus from passing.

But one Dr. Regina
Gorgen of the University of Heidelberg, Berlin was quoted in
The Guardian
of Thursday Dec. 2, 2004 under the title: “Experts
differ on condom’s safety in prevention” as saying “It is not true that condoms
have holes big enough for HIV to pass through. The water molecules is by far
smaller than HIV, but when you pour water into a condom and allow it to stand
for days, it does not pass through the condom. So all these claims are


First, for Dr.
Gorgen to have used the phrase “big enough” suggests that she knows that condoms
have holes, but she is questioning the size of such holes compared to that of
the HIV virus. Well, if Dr. Gorgen has done her research well she would have
known that rubber experts have measured the virus as 0.1 micron, the second
smallest virus known to man. The concept that “latex rubber condom is
waterproof” means that it has no pores (holes). This is blatantly false. Here is
a statement from a scientific encyclopaedia: “Since under normal conditions, the
skin is waterproof, it helps to conserve the water content of the body. Does
this mean the skin has no pores? We’d all die if our skin didn’t have pores. It
is because water molecules cling together, that’s why they don’t go through
intact latex condom. Viruses, however, don’t clump in the same manner as water.
Latex rubber condom is a semi-permeable membrane. Casting my mind back to my
secondary school osmosis experiment, using water, sugar and a semi-permeable
membrane, the sugar passes through the membrane but the water doesn’t that’s how
the virus passes through the condom without the body fluid passing through. It
is a common occurrence that if one inflates a balloon, ties it up properly and
keeps it in a safe place, after some days the balloon will deflate by losing air
through the tiny invisible naturally occurring holes in its semi-permeable


On June 25, 19992
Dr. C. M. Roland, Editor of the journal Rubber Chemistry & Technology stated in
The Washington Post as follows. “…Electron micrographs reveal voids (holes)
five microns in size (50 times larger than the virus), while fracture mechanics
analyses, sensitive to the largest flaws present, suggest inherent flaws as
large as 50 microns (500 times the size of the virus)…. latex condoms have
tiny intrinsic holes called ‘voids.’ The AIDS virus is 50 times smaller than
these tiny holes which make it easy for the virus to pass through them, about as
easy as a dime through a basketball loop.”

contrary to the view of Dr. Gorgen and his ilk condom cannot prevent HIV virus
transmission. As far back as 1987 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the
United States stated that: “It would be acceptable to state on the labeling of
latex condoms that when used properly, they may prevent the transmission of many
sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia infections,
genital herpes and AIDS, although condoms cannot eliminate the risk”, but from
year 2001, the FDA permits manufacturers to label condoms for use during
penile-vaginal intercourse as follows: “If used properly, latex condoms will
help reduce the risk of transmission of HIV infection (AIDS) and many other
STDs”. This latest instruction clearly states that condoms do not prevent HIV
transmission but will help reduce the risk of infection.

Furthermore, a
study carried out at University of Miami Medical School which used live couples
to test HIV transmission found “that 3 out of 10 women whose husbands are HIV
positive and were always using a fresh condom for each intercourse, contracted
AIDS Related Complexes (ARC) in an 18-month period”. This translates into an
infection rate of 11.2 per cent first year, 21 per cent in 2 years, 30 per cent
in 3 years, 45 per cent in 5 years and 70 per cent in 10 years.


As the said
Guardian editorial rightly pointed out, AIDS is a threat to our economy and the
very fabric of our society. It has become the most destructive disease which
effects are measured in declining per capital, loss of productivity, shrinking
profits and deteriorating public services. In this regard AIDS, in my view, now
qualifies as a part of the national question. Therefore, we should stop playing
politics with AIDS. NGOs must stop reaping benefits from the unfortunate
situation of people living with AIDS (PLWHA). Condom marketers should stop
corrupting the Nigerian young simply because they want to market their condoms.
If the Federal government and NACA have recognised the efficacy of abstinence
and mutual fidelity in AIDS prevention it should give it a try by enlisting the
support of pro-abstinence and mutual fidelity.

Uganda tried abstinence and today Uganda is almost free from AIDS. Nigeria must
borrow a leaf from the Ugandan experience and save our young people from the
AIDS scourge

  • Okwuosa is
    Director-General, Project for Human Development (PHD), an NGO based in Lagos.

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