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E O EkeThursday, September 13, 2012
eoeke@aol.com


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AIDS IN NIGERIA THE FORGOTTEN EPIDEMIC (CONCLUSION)

t would seem that Christianity and Islam have created misconceptions about sex which need to be corrected, if Nigerians in particular and Africans in general will adopt an enlightened attitude to this natural instinctual urge. We now know more about sex, since Adam woke up from sleep and saw a naked woman beside him. We cannot continue to ignore knowledge in preference for faith. Faith should be what we exercise when we come to the limit of knowledge. Why should a people choose to believe when they can understand? Why must Nigerians continue to venerate ignorance in the name of religion? When will Nigerians accept that religion does not bring enlightenment but simply offers a moral compass which could be a guide to a peaceful co-existence when devoid of prejudice? Unfortunately, the history of religion shows that it is guided more by its prejudices than its noble values.


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The major religions in Nigeria agree that God created human beings in a rather simplistic manner that is more in keeping with what is seen in children cartoons than how a complex creature like the Homo sapiens could have been created or originated. It is simply ironic that we seem to have failed to see the need to add knowledge to our religious faith. We need to accept that prayer alone, without intelligent use of knowledge to find solution to our problems, will not amount to anything. The fact is that human beings are sexual beings and therefore need to approach sex in an intelligent manner. We need to approach sex in the same way we approach eating and drinking. Our attitude should be geared towards ensuring that this most intimate of relationship between two human beings, is conducted safely and in atmosphere of mutual consent and respect. These facts should call for a change in attitude about sext which is one of the reasons behind the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in Nigeria. The shift of emphasise to the safest and best way of being fruitful and multiplying is what should rightly occupy those whose interest and understanding of sex is the real reason behind the spread of sexually transmitted infections in Nigeria. Available evidence would suggest that the best context for sex is in a loving marriage relationship between a man and a woman and that even in the context of marriage that safe and responsible sex is very important.

Without the practice of safe and responsible sex, many women are subjected to frequent pregnancies which put their health at risk and condemn them to early death. Many people support and sustain this oppressive and ignorant attitude to women and sex in the context of marriage by the writing of the Quran and Bible. In the Bible Christians quote Paul who said that a women should never say no to her husband for sex thereby sanctioning sex on demand by the men. According to St Paul, a woman has no power over her own body which is a complete violation of individual autonomy. How any rational human can regard this idea as inspired and of God, I cannot understand. Nobody questions whether this is a reasonable suggestion and how women feel about it. This is just one way religion provided the justification for the sexual abuse of women even in marriage relationships. This religious attitude to sex ignores the fact that while sex is purely a pleasurable activity for the man, it is an act that often ends in tragedy for the women. Women can get pregnant after sex which becomes a life changing reality. Many women have quite school because they had sex and I have never heard of a man who dropped out of school because he had sex

Women suffer more from sex and bear a disprortionate part of the consequences, especially when it results in pregnancy. They can get pregnant which can end in tragedy at child birth. This is one reason why their perspective on sex should now be given more consideration. When a man finishes a sexual act, it is literarily all over for him, but for the woman, it may be the beginning of nine months of pregnancy which many end in her death or that start of difficult decision which may end in abortion with serious lifelong psychological consequences. These can be the stark reality of sex for many women. Sadly, this reality and consequence of sex are often not taken into consideration in the religious sexual world view, especially those who believe that women should supply sex to men on demand and that a woman should have no right over any growing organism in her uterus.

In addition, the Catholic Church opposition to the use of condoms and its ignorant belief that the use of condom promotes promiscuity has left many women without the only thing that might protect them against sexually transmitted infection especially in context when they cannot say no. It is well known that AIDS was transmitted by South African miners to their wives and that one of the factors that contribute to the spread of STI is husband and wife living apart. The refusal by religion to allow the science of sex to inform its attitude, beliefs and dogmas is simply the triumph of ignorance and very unfortunate. If religion empowers women to take control of their health and body, the spread of Aids, at least in some relationships would be controlled. If women regain their God given right to demand safe sex, many cases of AIDS and STIs would be prevented. In other words, empowerment of women in Africa is easiest way to fight AIDS and bring it under control, and religion can play a very important role in this, if wisely applied.

In Nigeria, AIDS is still shrouded in secrecy. No patient with AIDS ever accepts that he has the infection. Many people infected with AIDS who I saw before they died, claimed they were poisoned or that the doctors did not know what was wrong with them. Even when the stigmata of the illness are obvious, the average Nigerian patient would deny that he or she has AIDS. There is not enough concerted effort and effective action by the government to saturate the country with knowledge about AIDS so that people can take responsible decisions about their sexual life and health. The consequences have been that millions continue to be infected daily with AIDS virus through stupid and ignorant sex, creating an epidemic. This is a time bomb which Nigerian would be forced to confront when it would be completely out of control and too late to help those at risk.

Nigerians should not allow religion and ignorance to condemn some of our people to early death. We should start informed education about sex and consider the introduction of sex licence for young people. It should be modelled like driving licence. The law should ban young people from having sex until they have passed a sex test. Which would involve demonstration of knowledge in sexually transmitted infections, psychological aspect of sex, safe sex, pregnancy and parenting. Once people have passed this test they should be trusted to take responsibility for their sexual lives and bear the consequences. In addition, as a matter of urgency the government should establish at least one anonymous free Aids testing and counselling centre in each state of the federation. This will enable people to find out their HIV status especially after they have engaged in reckless sex to ensure early diagnosis, intervention and support.

Lastly the government should invest more in the procurement and availability of antiviral medications. A sustainable way of ensuring that subsidised antiviral medications and condoms become a permanent feature of the healthcare service should be implemented. These are a few of the steps an honest, sensitive and responsive government can take when faced with the type of problems Nigeria has in area of sexually transmitted infections. I hope and pray that Nigeria will get leaders who go into politics because they want to make the country and lives of the people better and not because they want to make more money and help their business. God help Nigeria.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.

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