Apart from matters of development and politics, Benue State has always been in the news for the wrong reasons .The menace of HIV/AIDS has been on an astronomical increase in this agrarian state, and this has raised a lot of questions. SOLOMON AYADO writes on why the rate of the cankerworm is high.
The Benue State, which is popularly known as the Food Basket of the Nation, is located in the North-Central zone of the country. It is situated along the River Benue and is well known for hospitality and guaranteed security. Unfortunately, the story and menace of the dreaded disease, HIV/AIDS, seems to have taken over the level of hospitality and peace the state is known for, thereby battering its positive image.
At the moment, prostitution and drunkenness have taken over the state, making it less hospitable and unsafe for people; and this is quite instrumental to the high rate of the dreaded disease. As if in a stiff competition, hotels, local and traditional bars and beer parlours have continued to spring up in Makurdi, the state capital and other major towns.
These joints, apart from their initial purpose for relaxation, have become dangerous havens for prostitutes. They usually appear in skimpy and emotionally provoking dresses, take excessive alcohol and are always ready for the highest bidder irrespective of the customer's state of health.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND's investigation reveals that 65 per cent of women in the state, including housewives and students, have joined the illicit trade. About 25 per cent prefer to roam the offices of top government officials to sell their bodies at exorbitant rates.
Not a few others also pretend to engage in petty businesses such as hawking recharge cards and clothing materials around designated recreational parks. This act, it was discovered, is meant to attract amorous contacts for onward patronage.
No doubt, this illicit and desperate means of survival has resulted to untimely deaths of both the young and the old. Worried by this ugly trend, and in order to compliment the efforts of her husband, wife of the Benue State governor, Mrs. Dooshima Yemisi Suswam, established a non-profit, non-governmental organisation known as SEV-AV Foundation (the breaking of a new dawn). This gesture is aimed at restoring the lost glory of the state.
"I was moved to set up this foundation because of the rampant cases of death being experienced in the state. I remember vividly that when my husband was in the House of Representatives, there was a girl that honoured us very well, but few months after I was told she died. That was when I decided that a centre should be set up to create awareness against HIV/AIDS," Mrs Suswam said.
Expectedly, at inception SEV-AV Foundation established several clinics across the 23 local government areas of the state. The centre started with facilities such as HIV counselling and testing, antenatal care services as well as paediatric care of the aged irrespective of their status. It subsequently procured HIV testing kits, adult antiretroviral drugs and OIs reportedly worth over N5 million.
But unfortunately, these efforts have not changed the negative attitude of the people, especially the female gender as many have deliberately refused to make use of this ample opportunity to make their lives better.
Visitors to major cities in the state are often treated to a "juicy" stay as night life is dangerously attractive.
Pundits are also of the opinion that politicians in the state encourage the spread of this deadly disease as they do everything within their reach to entice the girls for their illicit act.
Interestingly, the state governor, Gabriel Suswam has invested significantly in the health sector in the last five years. 16 general hospitals are being renovated and equipped, while health personnel, including medical doctors have been recruited for proper management of the sector. Unfortunately, however, arrangements are not yet completed to secure accreditation for the state-owned teaching hospital from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
To achieve his aim, the governor has charged the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Orduen Abunku with the responsibility to checkmate the health status of the state through the regulation of unhealthy activities.
Also, the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Comfort Agene, during a press briefing few weeks ago, said that "the ministry is determined to transform the parks and gardens in Makurdi to attract foreign investors and boost the revenue generation of the state." However, the people are still waiting for action.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, the executive secretary of Benue State Action Committee on AIDS (BENSACA), Mrs. Grace Ashi Wende, who revealed that the scourge is high in the rural areas, said the agency was working round the clock to totally eradicate the disease in the state.
On his part, special adviser to the governor on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mr. Timothy Aikyor, while confirming the high rate of HIV/AIDS in the state, attributed it to insincerity and people's attitude to sex, as well as lack of knowledge.
According to Aikyor, "The high rate of HIV in the state is truly due to insincerity, change of lifestyle, attitude to sex and lack of knowledge. The campaign is ongoing but it is yet to reach communities. The rate of the disease in rural areas is obviously more than what obtains in urban centres.
"The youth need to change their attitude toward sex life. They should play safe, and if possible, abstain from it. Condom use is very low. They complain they don't enjoy sex with condoms." He stated that there was need for community-based campaigns in local tribes and dialects for maximum results.