Just recently, Weekly Trust newspaper did a comprehensive report on the HIV/AIDS scourge in Nigeria and how we are almost losing the fight against the dreaded disease.After reading the story my concern immediately was about the north where the level of illiteracy is still high among the people with regard to the spread of the disease and issues of prevention and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. As a Muslim, I must admit that some of us still live in self denial about the impact of the disease and as such, all hands are still not on deck to combat the disease.
It is in this regard that I write to commend Ummah Support Initiative(USI) under the auspices of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs(NSCIA), the only visible Muslim group that have been working through the communities in the last four years or so, to enlighten, assist and empower orphans, widows, commercial sex workers and people living with HIV/AIDS from the meagre resources available to them. When I was invited by one of the coordinators of the USI sometimes in 2008 to witness their activities in Nyanya, a satellite town in Abuja, I was shocked for the first time in my life to see Muslim women, men and children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. You know the kind of modesty and shyness that goes with Muslims generally and especially Muslim women. To see Muslims coming out and admitting their status and listening to lectures organised by USI on how to go about treatment and receiving grants to aid their sustenance was a big lesson to me. I was later told that it took staff and volunteers of USI a herculean time before they could convince them to come out and receive help. USI in the last four years have provided nutrition and education to over 4000 Orphans and Vulnerable Children(OVC) and empowered over 3000 widows, PLWHA and commercial sex workers in Abuja, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Kano and Gombe.
In order to meet the nutritional need of the OVCs USI recruit primary health care workers from the identified health facility located in the community to carry out comprehensive nutrition services as follows: 1) baseline nutritional assessments; 2) monthly monitoring of growth and development 3) nutrition, counselling and education to promote weight gain or maintenance, health and survival of the OVC. A nutritionist may be hired on short-term basis to provide overall guidance on the content of the group counselling meetings with the caregivers.
USI distributes food supplements received from USAID MARKETS to the caregivers to support household nutrition. Ensure all OVC have birth registration, immunization and refer all sick OVC and severely malnourished child to a primary healthcare center/hospital for management
USI have also been at the forefront of improvising what they call Acada Learning Center model to provide education support to OVC who are out of school before they are reintegrated into formal education. UMMAH established Acada Learning Centers in several communities. For each child enrolled, ummah provided uniforms, sandals, text books and workbooks payment for the teacher’s salary, backpacks and other services that meet the needs of the children.
I have personally witnessed the distribution of Income Generating Grants(IGA) to widows and commercial sex workers to discourage them from prostitution.These grants were in the form of grinding machines, tailoring machines, sacks of rice and beans, hundreds of yards of clothes for sale and several other items too numerous to mention. Inspite of the aforementioned intervention by USI, a lot still need to be done. There is need for other Muslim organisations to spring up and confront this HIV/AIDS challenge if we are to succeed in this fight. I think in the not so distant future we may as a community adopt the Christian resolution that intending couples produce medical report on their HIV/AIDs status before the marriage is solemnised. This will go a long way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and help stem the tide against the disease.
It is equally important to call on wealthy Muslim individuals and groups to come to the assistance of USI to help them achieve their objective to assist those infected and affected by HIV/AIDs. For how long are we going to rely on donor agencies? What happens when the fund dries up? Which will happen sooner or later? It is time we take our destiny in our hands as other communities are doing.
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Abdulsalam writes from Karu, Abuja