Nigeria: Overcoming Stigma to Educate Others: A Personal Story from Nigeria (March 2006)

Overcoming stigma is an issue still facing many HIV-positive people throughout Nigeria. With the support of the Government of Nigeria and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), people infected with HIV are beginning to reveal their status and get involved in community activities to fight the disease.

One such person is Dan Shehu, an itinerant laborer from Givanyaro in Sokoto State, who discovered that he was HIV-positive while being treated in a Lagos hospital for an acute illness. He returned to his home village, full of despair over the diagnosis. At the PEPFAR-supported Usman Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, he received HIV/AIDS awareness information and counseling, and then began to make secret visits to the hospital in order to receive antiretroviral treatment. He kept his HIV status a secret, due to the high level of stigma and ostracism in the community towards people living with the disease, as well as mistaken beliefs that it could be transmitted through casual or social contact.

The hospital is making de-stigmatization an important aspect of its activities to reverse the pervasive problems of stigma, not only in the university, but also in the wider community of dispersed rural settlements. Migrant work is common during the dry season, often leading to the spread of HIV/AIDS through sex with multiple partners.

The hospital's program encourages local leaders and other influential villagers to actively participate in an anti-AIDS campaign. The Mogaji (Village Head) of Givanyaro has pledged his village's support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dan Shehu made the decision to reveal his HIV status, leading to frank and open discussions throughout the village on HIV/AIDS. Several of the villagers have since visited the counseling and testing center on the university campus (also established under the PEPFAR grant to the university) to determine their HIV status.

Dan Shehu is finding growing acceptance in his small village and he continues to share his experience with fellow villagers. Through such discussions, many are learning how to avoid contracting HIV and what steps to take to seek treatment if it is needed. Through their efforts, Dan and other villagers are helping the community root out stigma and discrimination.

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