Group rewards finalists in HIV self-testing contest

Three youth, who proposed smart ideas on the promotion of the HIV/AIDS self-testing among Nigerian youth, have been recognised by a team of Nigerian researchers.

HIV self-testing (HIVST) is the process by which people who want to know their HIV status perform HIV test themselves and interpret the result in private.

This is generally conducted using rapid test kits, such as finger stick tests (on whole blood) or mouth swab tests (on oral-fluid).

The winners, Tony Akeju, Ginika Nzokwe and Idris Badmus, defeated 903 other contestants to come tops.

Explaining the concept of self-testing, Mr Badmus said it had the potential to expand the number of persons aware of their HIV status.

“Its potential to reach those who may not otherwise test may enable the country to achieve a situation where 90% of Nigerians living with HIV may know their status.

“Self-testing allows people to test on their own without having to go to the clinics or health facilities. It empowers people by normalising screening for HIV while giving individuals more rights and control over their own health,” he noted.

The contest is an initiative of the 4Youth By Youth (4YBY) Group. The latter is a team of Nigerian researchers led by Oliver Ezechi, a doctor at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Researchers (NIMR) and scientists at Saint Louis University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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They were backed by the United States National Institute of Health (NIH), Eunice Shriver National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.

The event which was held in commemoration of the World AIDS Day, held at the Police Training College, Ikeja, Lagos on Saturday.

The top three winnerswent home with prizes, gadgets, as well as mentorship opportunities from leading business and health professionals.

4YBY said they identified the adoption of HIV self-testing as an additional way to create demand for HIV testing, thereby increasing knowledge of HIV status and reducing the accelerated spread of HIV/AIDS nationwide among young people in Nigeria.

Explaining the idea behind the campaign at the event which had PREMIUM TIMES in attendance, the team members said they coordinated a social media-driven HIV Self-Testing Contest that ran from October 25 to November 25.

The idea, they said, was in a bid to crowd-source innovative ideas to promote HIV self-testing in Nigeria.

The winners will be trained based on the ideas they have pitched.

Speaking at the World AIDS Day HIV self-testing awareness event, the principal investigator, Juliet Iwelunmor, a doctor, said, “Our goal is to drive the increased participation of young Nigerians in the fight against HIV/AIDS through generating demand and adoption of self-testing. This we hope to achieve by rewarding innovative and creative ideas that encourage self-testing amongst Nigerian Youth, which will ultimately go a long way in helping to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat.”

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Speaking further, she added that Nigeria currently has the highest rate of new HIV infection in Africa, after South Africa and Uganda.

“UNAIDS reported that there are 200,000 newly infected people in Nigeria annually – 46,000 of these are young women and 33,900 are young men,” she said.

Before the winners were announced, the organisers in collaboration with Lagos AIDS Control Agency organised a walkathon. Free condoms were given out, while oral and confirmatory blood-based HIV tests were administered to over 300 attendees by medical practitioners at the event.

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