LAGOS, Nigeria (GPI)-- When Aminat Alli-Agboola, 33, first found out she was HIV-positive in 2004, she was too sick to react to the news.
“I was very ill,” she says. “There was nothing I could do but pray to survive.”
At the time, she attended Yaba College of Technology in Lagos, a city on the southwest coast of Nigeria.
Unsure how she contracted the virus, she says that it could have been through having unprotected sex with an infected partner or by sharing unsterilized, sharp objects, like hair clippers or razor blades.
Alli-Agboola began antiretroviral drug therapy in 2005. She also joined an anti-AIDS club at her college, formed by HOPE worldwide, an international charity. The club informed students about HIV and reproductive health, and Alli-Agboola says she made herself an expert.
She says that it wouldn’t have amounted to anything without her family’s support.
“Support from family revived me,” she says. “For me, I was at the stage of dying.”
But beyond her family, the stigma attached to HIV was strong. Alli-Agboola says she did not know that one day she would be married with two children. Her husband and children are not infected with HIV.
Alli-Agboola says her HIV status was the first thing she revealed to her future husband when he asked her out on a date. She says her husband is informed about the virus and supportive.
“He does not see it as a hindrance to our relationship,” she says.
Alli-Agboola also didn’t think she would be working in an organization and interacting with others without discrimination, she says. But she now works with the Nigeria Business Coalition Against AIDS, which implements workplace and community-based HIV and AIDS prevention education, care and support programs.
She also runs Positive Youth Initiative of Nigeria, a project she launched in 2005 that provides psycho-social support for young people living with HIV.
But to other HIV-positive youths in Nigeria, Alli-Agboola’s happy ending, with a supportive family, college education and good job, may seem far from reach.
Despite increased awareness about HIV and AIDS, stigmatization in families and communities remains strong. Youths living with HIV cite discrimination when it comes to education and employment. They are working through nongovernmental organizations with the government to pass the anti-discrimination bill currently under consideration in the National Assembly to protect the rights of people with HIV and AIDS.
More than 4 percent of Nigerians have HIV, ranking it third among the countries with the highest HIV and AIDS burden in the world after India and South Africa, according to the 2012 Global AIDS Response Country Progress Report. But new infections in the country decreased by 6.1 percent from 2008 to 2010 and by 2.7 percent in 2011.
But for people living with HIV, the stigma has been strong.
Gloria Asuquo, 24, has lived with HIV for 14 years.
“I tested positive in 1999, when I was about 12 years old,” she says. “I contracted HIV through blood transfusion. Each time people come out to say HIV is through sex, I come out to say, no, it is not only through sex. You can still get it in so many ways.”
Asuquo’s parents initially hid her status from her when she was first diagnosed at the hospital.
“They hid it from me,” she says. “They didn’t want me to know I was HIV-positive.”
Her father revealed her status to her a few months later.
“He started out by asking what I would do if my friend was HIV-positive,” she says.