By Ebere Orji
Catholic Relief Services in collaboration with Justice, Development & Peace/Caritas Initiative (JDPC) Enugu Diocese has launched GRAIL III strategy, an intervention aimed at improving HIV prevention and treatment options for adolescents and young persons.
The program launch held on 22nd March 2021 at the Jubilee Hall of the Holy Ghost Cathedral Enugu, promoted the uptake of quality HIV testing services, referral and linkage to HIV care and treatment services.
The goal of the strategy is to build the capacity of the Clergy who are closer to and trusted by the people at the grass-root, in HIV care, support and treatment services. By providing them with updates and contemporary modalities in the field of HIV/AIDS, it is expected that the priests will be equipped to properly deliver HIV messages to congregants, counsel persons on HIV related matters and appropriately refer them to heath facilities for expert medical care and treatment.
The strategy also aims to strengthen retention and adherence to treatment by encouraging the creation of support groups and linking of persons to the state network of people living with HIV and AIDS, A measure that will promote positive and dignified living; HIV stigma and discrimination reduction within the religious community and general populace; improve the quality of health counseling offered to the religious community on HIV; as well as to sustain the gains and achievements of the HIV response through various prevention and treatment programs.
The South-East Zonal Coordinator of ‘Faith-Based Action for Scaling up Testing & Treatment for Epidemic Response’ (FASTER), Dr. Chukwuemeka Amuta, reported that the results from the recent update of HIV cases in Nigeria indicates that there is an epidemic-level prevalence of HIV in Nigeria. In Enugu state there is a prevalence of 2.4% of persons living with HIV which is more than the national average of 1.4%. Nationwide, amongst children aged 0-14 years there is a prevalence of 0.2%, however, despite efforts made, it is estimated that there are about 80,000 children living with HIV and they are yet to be found and put on life saving treatment.
According to Dr. Chukwuemeka, strategies are being rolled out to get more persons tested, access treating for those who test positive and to reduce to associated stigma with HIV.
In his words; “We have a strategy called GRAIL which stands for ‘Galvanizing Religious Leaders for Accelerated Identification and Linkage’ to Pediatric. We have certain goals set before us. And the first is a nation-wide strategy driven by the development agency of the church in Nigeria to bring the focus to the large gap of children living with HIV who should be put on life saving drugs but are not. We hope that through this strategy we will address the myths surrounding HIV.
We will tackle HIV associated stigma and discrimination, and identify the primary reasons why we are still dealing with HIV epidemic. And by so doing make it comfortable for persons to come out when they test positive and assess care at the right health centers. Through this project, we seek to develop and equip religious leaders and facilitators through a mix of didactic and hands-on capacity building that will ensure that the knowledge is transferred, skills will be built and stepped down, and an evaluation conducted .”
In an interview with The Choice Flame, Dr. Chukwuemeka Amuta explained that the 95:95:95 is a vision to get 95% of Nigerian adolescents living HIV to know their status. He explained that testing for HIV can now be carried out using the saliva-based HIV kits that will be made available to them; and to place on life-long treatment 95% of the adolescents living with HIV on Antiretroviral drugs, as well as to make sure that 95% of those on treatment achieve viral suppression, He advised the public to be receptive to the project and get treatment if positive for HIV.
The Honorable Commissioner of Health, Emmanuel Obi represented by Ike Okafor Ikechukwu, in his speech appreciated the efforts of CRS in supporting the government in HIV activities.
According to him, “CRS has helped in training lab scientists and made it possible for easy and faster placement, treatment and care of persons that test positive for HIV. As well they have assisted in self-esteem training and HIV self-testing, as one can test him or herself and go to the nearest health facility. I am so overwhelmed to see such a program where clergies, the priests, will join hands in making sure that the 95:95:95 as regards to adolescent HIV will be realized.”
Also, The Ministry of Gender Affairs represented by Eze Romanus, the director of child services, in his address, said that in partnership with FASTER they can help in the fight against HIV because the ministry also deals with children.
He welcomed the inclusion of Catholic priests in the workshop because they are part of the change agents in the community and are listened to by the people.
“We assure you that whatever way we can, we are going to make sure that the welfare of these children is protected. This is important to us because they are an indispensable part of our society”, he said.
Addressing the audience, The Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Bishop CallistusOnaga explained that the focus of the training on the priests is for them to reach out to the people.
The Bishop encouraged the priests to key into the project especially in the area of stigmatization as protecting the dignity of the people fall squarely on them.
His Lordship said; “My dear clergy, learn this very well. You are like a small group which will dispense this news to others and reach out to the less privilege. If we can give this the kind of commitment, we give to some of our pastoral work, we are talking about humanity. We must do this not only to get the treatment but to debunk this belief in conspiracy theories and to widen our tentacles. Let us get as much people as we can that this umbrella can help. We will not only pray but also do our best to contribute. The essence of this launching is to kick off the training.”
Mimi Wende of the CARITAS Foundation of Nigeria further revealed that they had held 3 community outreaches so far and expressed appreciation to the priests for their support and participation in the ongoing program.
The workshop on the GRAIL III strategy which commenced on Monday, 22nd March is billed to end on Wednesday, 24th March 2021.
Bishop Onaga addressing the audience while launching the GRAIL Strategy