NCDC Boss, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu

•Share love, not HIV, NACA cautions

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has advised Nigerians to think of innovative ways to celebrate tomorrow’s Valentine Day and to do so safely. The agency urged Nigerians to protect themselves, family and loved ones, especially in ways that do not involve large gatherings.

It said several institutions also have a role to play in ensuring adherence to preventive measures, urging business owners to introduce measures that would ensure people visiting their stores, clubs, eateries, fun spots, etc have their facemasks on throughout to protect other customers and staff.

In the same vein, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) charged young people in particular to avoid risky sexual behaviour while celebrating the day.

The agency expressed concern over the degree of unprotected sexual activities made out of impulsive decisions by younger adults, adding: “Many impulsive decisions are made in the heat of moment, such as unprotected sex, which often leads to unwanted pregnancies and increased risk of acquiring sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.”

NCDC Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, said: “While we recognise that people want to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we caution that they must do so safely. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in several ways, especially our physical and social interactions.

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“We appreciate that the public health measures in place to contain the spread of the virus may be difficult, as it requires a change in people’s lifestyle. However, these are steps that must be taken to reduce the risk of spread of the disease.

“We urge Nigerians to think of every decision they make in celebrating as one that could contribute to life or death. Sadly, over 1,600 people in Nigeria have died from COVID-19 (as at Wednesday, February 10). Please, avoid large gatherings, especially if indoors, and take responsibility to protect yourself and those around you.

“NCDC continues to work with relevant government institutions and all states under the leadership of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19; we encourage Nigerians to continue to take the necessary measures to themselves and our country.

“As we plan towards the safe celebration of the Valentine season, we need the support of all Nigerians to limit spread of the virus. This means adhering strictly to public health measures, including avoiding large gatherings. Please, continue frequent hand hygiene through hand washing with soap and water or use of an alcohol-based sanitiser, wear a facemask properly, especially in public places and maintain physical distance of at least two metres.”

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He reminded the public that doing one out of these measures still puts them at risk, saying they are better protected by practising all public health and social measures.

Ihekweazu recalled that since the onset of the pandemic, several measures had been adopted and implemented through the PTF on COVID-19 to prevent, detect, control and mitigate the impact of the virus in Nigeria, as well as the signing of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Health Protection Regulations 2021 into law last month by President Muhammadu Buhari, clearly stating measures that must be adhered to by all Nigerians and be enforced by the relevant authorities.

“We appeal to Nigerians to adhere to these measures, as we must work hard to avoid an increase in the number of cases. As Nigeria’s public health institute, NCDC has also published various guidelines to inform and educate Nigerians on the COVID-19 situation and relevant public health and social measures.”

Director General of NACA, Dr. Gambo Aliyu, in a press statement by the agency’s Head, Public Relations and Protocol, Mrs. Toyin Aderibigbe, decried the risk associated with having multiple sexual partners, saying it was capable of increasing vulnerability to HIV among youth population.

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Aliyu said: “According to the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), the difference in HIV prevalence between women and men is greatest among younger adults.

“With young women, aged 20 to 24 years, more than three times are likely to be living with HIV as young men in the same age group.”

He explained that HIV prevalence among children of 0 to 14 years is 0.2 per cent, reassuring of NACA’s commitment to achieving HIV-free Nigeria as a demonstration of government’s love for fellow Nigerians.

Aliyu, however, said his agency was working in tandem with its goal of scaling up community efforts to provide national access to prevention, treatment, care and support services.

Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated every year on February 14. It originated as a minor Western Christian feast day honouring one or two early Christian martyrs, named Saint Valentine, and through later folk traditions, has become a significant cultural, religious and commercial celebration of romance and love in many parts of the world.

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