Conflict in Nigeria’s Delta Region Contributing to Spread of HIV, IRIN/PlusNews Reports
Conflict in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region is contributing to the spread of HIV in the country, IRIN/PlusNews reports. According to IRIN/PlusNews, rapes being committed by militants fighting for a greater share of the region's oil wealth and the military are contributing to the spread of HIV. "Rape is prevalent: these militants do anything they like, and when there is conflict, the military move in, and they too will commit rape," C. Okeh, chair of the State Action Committee on HIV/AIDS, said. Although SACA works with police and certain army brigades, other military task forces are not included under the committee's umbrella, according to IRIN/PlusNews.
In addition, the commercial sex industry established around the region's oil refineries is contributing to the situation. The region is "dotted with oil and gas activities, and commercial sex workers follow the camps," Okeh said.
Nigeria's Rivers State has an HIV/AIDS prevalence of 5.4%, compared with the national average of 4.4%, IRIN/PlusNews reports. In addition to the delta conflict, there are multiple factors contributing to the spread of HIV in the state, according to IRIN/PlusNews. A National HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health Survey found the region has the highest incidence of sex work and the largest number of people who have sex with more than one partner per year. The city of Port Harcourt, which has a sea port and international airport, also is a popular destination for migrants. Okeh said, "We are finding a rising [HIV] prevalence in rural farming and fishing communities -- we have communities with very high unemployment rates." Okeh also said he is concerned that unrest in the region will undo the work his committee and nongovernmental organizations have done. He said that at the very least, a "crisis situation means that you don't have time to listen to [HIV/AIDS] messages -- you're thinking of your immediate survival."
According to IRIN/PlusNews, Rivers State has an estimated 120,000 HIV-positive people, of whom about 5,230 currently receive antiretroviral drugs through seven public health centers. One of the centers, located on an island an hour boat ride from Port Harcourt, receives supplies irregularly because of the threat of piracy. David Fabara, coordinator of antiretrovirals and surveillance in the state, said, "We suspect there definitely will be a problem of [drug] resistance" as a result of treatment interruption. Okeh added that the insecurity of the situation is "very challenging, because we are in a situation of a widespread epidemic with very high prevalence across the state, even the interior" (IRIN/PlusNews, 8/14).