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Good news on HIV/AIDS?

I have had a few emails asking….Is there nothing good coming out of the health sector in Nigeria?

Well…there just might be!

The Guardian reports that NATIONAL Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) said at the weekend that there have been fewer new HIV infections in the country and the number of Nigerians who die due to the virus had reduced drastically.

Reduced from 3.9 to what you might ask?…yes….same thought here. Well…the final figures have not been announced…but we live in hope. To read a good summary of the situation in Nigeria, the UNAIDS country page is a good resource

This is an opportune time to highlight work done by individuals and organisations in this area.

So …over the next few weeks…we will look all over the health scene in Nigeria for positive stories, especially in regard to the response to HIV/AIDS

If you have any stories that have positively affected the health of Nigerians…please send them in.

We’ll start with a few stories on the individuals and organisations outside the public sector. I have always been interested in…what is that extra trigger that causes us to move from a great idea, strong will, determination,…to actually conceptualizing and doing.. This quote from Nduka Obaigbena in Thisday on Sunday jumped out on me… Dele Momodu’s column in Thisday on Saturday.

“Let every individual pick his own sector and excel, with or without government. I have chosen mine.”

I have come to realise that this trigger is always different. Sometimes it is a personal tragedy, sometimes it is just a strong determination to do “good”, sometimes it is a business opportunity…

There is no more appropriate place to start than the story of JAAIDS and Omololu Falobi

. My friend Ike describes meeting Omololu thus:

My first encounter with Omololu was via the internet. I was enrolled on a Master’s degree programme at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was doing research for a project on HIV. When I typed in the words “Nigeria AIDS” into the Google search engine, it took me straight to the website for an organization called Journalists Against AIDS. Once on it, I quickly signed up to join the electronic forum organized by the group and from there became immersed deeply in the Nigerian HIV world. I could not believe my good fortune in finding the site and wondered who had had the foresight and expertise to set up such a useful resource. Searching on the site, I soon found that the organization was the brainchild of a gentleman called Omololu Falobi. I became a regular contributor to the site and often recommended it to colleagues and friends who had questions about HIV in Nigeria.

To read the full story of our last encounter with Omololu…click here.

My story with Omololu is just as fascinating…In 2000, doing my MPH in Germany…I needed a list of NGOs working on HIV/AIDs in Nigeria. I did a search on the web, found Omololu, wrote him an email out of the blue. In a weeks time I got a parcel via DHL. He refused to accept that I pay for it. He said…I was the same age as him…and the more ‘young’ people like us got involved in the stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS…this was payment enough. This was a journalist speaking to a physician!

I learnt a lot from this man! He showed that you do not have to shout at the top of your voice to be heard. He never sort the podium. He walked the walk. He showed that while we sit, argue and moan…about all that is bad with our country, one person sometimes CAN change things…one small step at a time.

Whenever the history of the response to HIV/AIDS is written in Nigeria, it will always be associated with Omololu.

I first met Omololu at the 2000 Durban AIDS Conference…where the theme was “Break the Silence”. I last met him in the at the 2006 conference in Toronto…themed “Time to Deliver” (picture below)

Sadly…the “Best of Nigeria” lost him…to “Worst of Nigeria”…as he was shot for still unknown reasons on the streets of Lagos. His is always remembered. Even in death…I can hear Omololu’s voice seeking out how we can use his life as a motivation for others to do more and talk less.

Maybe…just maybe we are beginning to see some of the fruits of his labour. Time will tell.

The strenght of any organisation/ngo/npo etc etc formed in these days of NGO proliferation is the survival of that organisation beyond the availability of the founder. Journalists Against AIDS in Nigeria (JAAIDS) is an excelent example of this.

For those who did not know him find some details below

Omololu is the founder/executive director of Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS), Nigeria. He was features editor of Nigeria’s largest-selling weekly, the Sunday Punch, from where he resigned in 2000 to run JAAIDS full-time. Omololu is a holder of a Bachelor in Dramatic Arts and a Masters in Political Science. At the 15th International AIDS conference in 2000, he won the International AIDS Society’s Young Investigator Award. The same year, he was named the winner of the Highway Africa Award for Innovative Use of New Media, an award that recognises outstanding and innovative use of the Internet in African journalism.

He was also a board member of The Black AIDS Institute (formerly the African American AIDS Policy & Training Institute), Los Angeles, USA; the Nigeria Youth AIDS Programme (NYAP); and the Positive Life Organisation (a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS). In 2001, he was appointed an Ashoka Fellow, joining an elite group of only 2000 ‘social entrepreneurs’ worldwide recognised for their outstanding and innovative approaches to ‘re-engineering society’. Over the past five years, he has been a prominent advocate on HIV/AIDS in Africa. In recognition of this, he was selected as the African NGO representative on the board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for 2004 and 2005. More recently, he has helped in convening the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV and AIDS, which serves as an umbrella movement
for organisations involved in HIV and AIDS advocacy and campaigns on the continent.

In recent years, Omololu has served in several capacities in the response to HIV/AIDS within and outside Nigeria: as media coordinator of the African Union Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (2001); member, drafting committee of the Nigerian HIV Vaccine Plan, the National HIV Behaviour Change Communication Strategy and the 2005-2009 National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework. He has contributed to several publications on HIV/AIDS, including the Communication Handbook on HIV Vaccine Trials in Developing Countries (UNAIDS, 2001), the Media Handbook on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (JAAIDS/DevComs/UNIC, 2003) and Scorecard of Media Reporting of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (JAAIDS, 2005).

Omololu has been active in the vaccine and advocacy field for several years. In 2003, he co-founded the Nigeria HIV Vaccine and Microbicides Advocacy Group (NHVMAG), serving as its Co-Coordinator and a strong part of the group’s backbone. He has led several media training programmes on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Zambia.

Omololu would be remembered as a dynamic, committed and resourceful AIDS activist whose contribution towards mitigating the impact of the epidemic would remain for a long time. He is survived by his wife, his two children, as well as siblings and an aged-mother

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

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