Among the countries with the highest HIV infections, Nigeria is ranked second and listed among the 35 ‘Fast-Track’ countries that ‘together account for more than 90% of people newly infected and 90% of people dying from AIDS-related causes worldwide. Of the roughly 160,000 young people of adolescent age (10-19) living with HIV in the country, adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) show the highest prevalence. AGYW from poor households, living with HIV, living with disabilities are vulnerable, as such, the need to ensure they have access to HIV prevention, treatment and care to ensure that we end the AIDS epidemic.
Pegging the age of consent in the constitution and the HIV testing services guidelines at 18, stigma and discrimination at the point of accessing services that involve shaming, the poor youth-friendliness in healthcare facilities, the cost of accessing services, as well as attitude of healthcare workers across Nigeria that make access to services difficult and unattractive have been identified as key barriers to uptake of HIV/AIDS services by adolescents and young people (AYP). Lowering the age of consent on HIV testing and counseling among adolescents will increase HIV testing, and hasten the initiation of treatment options for girls and young women who may already have contracted HIV.
Through the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response –Adolescent Girls and Young Women (PITCH-AGYW) project, a strategic partnership between AidsFonds, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Education as a Vaccine, with two leading HIV and AIDS networks in Nigeria – Association of Positive Youths Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (APYIN) and Association of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (ASWHAN) are spearheading advocacy campaign aimed at addressing barriers that inhibit adolescent girls and young people’s access to comprehensive HIV services. The project replicates and builds on EVA’s model of working with AYP themselves to challenge policies and practices that inhibit their right to health.
EVA, the coordinating organization for the PITCH Project in Nigeria; APYIN and ASWHAN are working together to strengthen the capacities of AYP to advocate for a reduction in the age of consent for accessing SRHR + HIV services for AGYW; ensure increase in the provision and access to youth-friendly services for AGYW; advocate for increase in the release of domestic resources as well as international/external funding of SRHR and HIV services for AGYW in Nigeria.
Today, EVA has taken two giant steps to ensure that the age of consent is lowered. First, during the Technical and Council sessions of the National Council on AIDS Annual Meeting, PITCH-AGYW partners submitted memoranda to the National Council on AIDS where they recommended lowering age of consent for access to HIV and SRH services for Adolescents and Young People (10-24 years) that will enable them to have access to testing and treatment. The recommendation is one of the ‘asks’ in this project. This was approved by the Council. For us and other implementing partners, it was a significant step towards the actualization of the project’s goal. The council, being the highest technical and policy advisory body on HIV in the country will also contribute to ensuring that age of consent is lowered to enable AYP have access to HIV testing and treatment/services.
Joy Oboyi, a Youth Advocate in the PITCH-AGYW Project recounts, “as a young girl, this project has given me the platform to be part of different conversations with relevant stakeholders towards improving the health and development of PLHIV especially, adolescents girls and young women in Nigeria. One memorable event was the opportunity to witness the National Council on Aids’ approved our recommendation to lower the Age of Consent for access to HIV and SRH services for Adolescents and Young People (10-24 years) that will enable them to have access to testing and treatment which is meant to be presented to the National Council on Health for consideration.”