REPORT OF THE GLOBAL WEEK OF ACTION ON AIDS, WITH THEME “FREE THE DRUGS: STOP THE DEATHS”.
The 2007 Global Week of Action on AIDS, scheduled for May 20 – 26, 2007 with theme: “Free the Drugs: Stop the Death”, started in Owerri, Imo State on Sunday, May 20, 2007 with an International AIDS Candlelight Memorial organized by the African Youth Development Foundation (AFRYDEF) in collaboration with the Soulwinners International Churches and a number of other churches, civil society organization, NGOs and some government agencies.
In the spirit of the AIDS Week, AFRYDEF also took to the street and interviewed some young people to assess their knowledge and level of awareness on HIV/AIDS issues, including modes of transmission, prevention and care.
The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is a grassroots mobilization program of the Global Health Council against the spread of HIV/AIDS. The 2007 event is the 24th year of the event, coordinated globally by the Global health Council. The memorial honours the memory of those that died of AIDS and it demonstrates our support, love and care for those living with HIV.
It is being observed internationally every 3rd Sunday of May. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Leading the way to a world without AIDS” and it is being observed in more than 4,000 communities and in more than 92 countries.
In Owerri, Imo State of Nigeria, a coalition of NGOs, civil society groups and the church community was formed by the African Youth Development Foundation (AFRYDEF) for the local observance of the memorial in Owerri. Such organizations included the Soulwinners International Churches; Community and Youth Development Initiatives (CYDI); Center for Development, Constitutionalism and Peace Advocacy (CD-COPA); the New Era Youth Club; Alpha Charity Health Care Services; and the Imo Orientation Agency. The memorial started with voluntary HIV counseling and referred services and film shows.
Official Opening by Her Excellency, Lady Ada Okwuonu, Deputy Governor of Imo State, Nigeria.
The event was flagged off by the Deputy Governor-elect of Imo State, Her Excellency, Dr (Mrs.) Ada Okwuonu. In her opening remarks, she said, “the time for denial of the epidemic has gone as all of us seated here has at one time or the other, lost someone, a relation, a friend or a colleague to this dreaded disease. Even, when in obituaries we do not mention the cause of the deaths, right inside our minds, we know it is AIDS that killed them”’
As the Deputy Governor-elect of Imo State, she said that she feels highly challenged by the theme of this event, which is “Leading the way to a world without AIDS”. In her own words, she said, I am particularly touched by it because in the next few days, I would be sworn in as the Deputy Governor of Imo State. So, how will I be leading the way to a world without AIDS in Imo State is the question in my mind now”.
She further affirmed that as a mother, a woman and the Deputy Governor of Imo State, that she would utilize her God-given abilities and resources in influencing policies that will support the reduction of the incidences of HIV/AIDS in the state. This according to her is because, “we, the women and our children are more vulnerable and the worst hit in this AIDS crisis. She said, “We, as women are helpless when it comes to negotiating safe sex.
When the men get infected, we are automatic victims of the disease and it is our children that would suffer the impacts”. She again pointed out that already there are so many children orphaned by AIDS that are roaming the streets, contributing to the high rates of crime and other social vices in the society.
Finally, she said that her office will be very “women friendly, youth-friendly as well as children-friendly” in carrying out her responsibilities as the Deputy Governor of Imo State.
Setting the stage
In setting the stage, the Executive Director of AFRYDEF, Hon. Remy Chukwunyere informed the audience that the essence of the candlelight memorial was to renew our commitments in the fight against the spread of the epidemic, which is ravaging our society. According to him, we are not here again to talk about statistics. Statistics only tell us that our loved ones are dying in their great numbers. Statistics only remind us that not so much is being done to stop these deaths that are actually preventable. Statistics only put fears in us…”
Our Charter of Demands
He further charged the participants to take actions in any little way they can to lend their supports to this global struggle and said they could do so by writing to their State Governors or the State Houses of Assemblies, Local Government Chairmen and other government officials and demand that they do the following:
- Give all People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) access to comprehensive and qualitative treatment, care and support services and programs.
- Make all diagnosis and monitoring tests free, ensure that the rights of PLWHA, other Vulnerable Children (OVC) and Persons affected by AIDS (PABA) are respected and protected.
- Ensure that all public and private organizations employ at least one PLWHA every year.
- Make anti-retroviral (ARVs) and drugs for Opportunistic Infections (OIs) available at all primary health centers.
- Make all forms of stigma and discrimination against PLWHAs and PABA a criminal offence, and,
- Ensure that our local pharmaceuticals produce generic drugs
He concluded by saying that by lending their voices to these campaigns, they could be saving a life, and then implored them to make use of the opportunity offered by the Global Week of Action on AIDS, which just started with the candlelight, to take action.
Brief Remarks from Special Guests
- Rev. (Dr.) Nelson Nnannah, Bishop of Soulwinners International Churches
In his speech, Rev. (Dr.) Nelson Nnannah, the Bishop of Soulwinners International Churches said that the church decided to join this program because HIV/AIDS is one of the plagues, Satan, the enemy invented to lead people to their early graves. He said that the disease came because human beings deviated from the original sexual practices approved by God and now engaged themselves in immoralities like homosexualism and lesbianism.
As a way out of this mess, the man of God said that God’s people should stay away from pre-marital sex and adulterous practices. According to him, since the church is in the business of saving people’s lives, the church should not then shy away from saving people from contacting HIV infections.
He therefore advised other churches, especially the Pentecostals to be part of this campaign, so that the entire community of God’s people could be acquainted with the necessary information on how not to be infected with this dreaded virus.
Finally he affirmed that God’s mercy and grace is still available to heal those affected by the virus.
- Sir Angus Oguike, Director-General, Imo Orientation Agency
Lending support to these voices, Sir Augus Oguike, the Director-General of Imo orientation through his Special Assistant, Chief C.T. Okoro said that the agency joined in this campaign because they are at the forefront of the campaign on behavior and attitudinal changes in the state and should therefore support all HIV/AIDS prevention activities in the state.
He said that the epidemic has become the leading killer of young people and further pledged his agency’s support to future activities of AFRYDEF and the coalition.
- Dr. (Mrs.) Phil Oshieze Ehirim, CEO, Alpha Charity Healthcare Services
In her brief remarks, the immediate past Chairperson of Owerri Municipal Council and the CEO of Alpha Charity Healthcare Services, Dr. Phil Ehirim said that her NGO also provides Voluntary HIV counseling and referral services.
She said she is lending her voice to this struggle because, she does not want more young people to become infected with this virus, which has already claimed so many precious lives.
- Uche Wisdom Durueke, CEO, Center for Development, Constitutionalism and Peace Advocacy
The President of the Center for Development, Constitutionalism and Peace Advocacy (CD-COPA), Barr. Uche Wisdom Durueke also said that HIV/AIDS is a development issue and should be given top priority by the government for significance progress to be made in stemming the virus.
He called for the Government, other NGOs and the Civil Society organizations in the state to support the work of the coalition.
- Paul Adepegba, Program Officer, Community and Youth Development Initiative
The Keynote Paper on the theme “Leading the way to a world without AIDS” was presented by Paul Adepegba, Pragram Officer of the Community and Youth Development Initiative (CYDI).
Other side attractions
Musical and drama groups provided edutainment at the event. The dramas and songs drew their themes from love, grief, sorrow, loss, etc to actually reflect the essence of the memorial.
The highpoint of the event was the lighting of candles in honour and memory of those that died of AIDS and in support, love and care for people living positively with HIV.
A minute silence was thereafter observed for all those that died of AIDS and prayers said for those living positively with the virus.
- PRESS CONFERENCE AND INTERACTIVE SESSION ON THE GLOBAL WEEK OF ACTION ON AIDS.
With the support of the Actionaid International/Nigerian Office, the African Youth Development Foundation (AFRYDEF) organized a press briefing on the theme of the celebration tagged “Free the Drugs: Stop the Death”.
The press briefing and interactive session was held on Thursday, May 24, 2007 with nine journalists representing Radio Nigeria (FRCN); Imo Broadcasting Corporation; Champion Newspapers; Nigeria Tribute; New Nigeria Age Newspapers; Announcer Express; Newspoint Newspapers; National Question and New Nigeria Newspapers in attendance.
Copies of the Nigerian Charter of Demands were later submitted to the Office of the Imo State Governor, his Deputy and the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
- Q&A/Discussion/Interactive Session
During this section, the summary of some of the salient issues raised included:
Mr. Felix Odunze of the Imo Broadcasting Corporation demanded to know whether the Candlelight that was celebrated on Sunday, May 20, 2007 provided treatment to PLWHA by way of distributing ARVs and drugs for Opportunistic Infections.
Responding, Hon. Remy Chukwunyere, CEO, AFRYDEF informed that the Memorial celebrated annually is only an awareness and educational program, where people are further provided with information about how to avoid contracting the virus and how they can support the global fight to stem the spread of the virus. He again said that the memorial was designed to honour and remember the memory of all those that have died of AIDS and to mobilize support and care for others that are living with the virus.
Mr. Emeka Ihegbulem of Champion Newspapers said he was worried about the Coalition’s demand on the government to ensure that all public and private organizations employ at least one PLWHA every year. According to him, employing PLWHA in workplaces may scare people away, especially in the private sector and wondered how the government could implement that.
In his answer, the Executive Director of AFRYDEF said that stigma and discrimination have been the major factors that are fueling the continued spread of the virus in our society. He said that for us to make meaningful progress, that we should all come to terms with the fact that the virus cannot be contracted through social contacts and that PLWHA are still human beings like us, who need our love, care and support.
He further said that it has become a criminal offence for any establishment to lay off its employees on the grounds of their HIV statuses and that associating with PLWHA this way would reduce the shame, fear and stigma PLWHA suffer.
He also said that such relationships would reduce people’s fear towards making themselves available for HIV counseling and testing as well as sharing positive results.
He concluded by advising everybody to know their HIV statuses as early detection of the virus helps in reducing its devastating impacts on the people and the society.