The advancement in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria has made it easy for people living with the scourge to have healthy and loving relationship with non-infected HIV partners.
Mr Patrick Akpan, Lagos Coordinator, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), made this assertion in an interview with newsmen on Tuesday in Lagos.
Akpan said: “Medicine has proved that if an HIV positive person is on treatment and have an undetectable viral load, the person can’t transmit the virus to his HIV negative partner.
“I have been married for 15 years. I told my wife I was HIV positive before we got married; as at this month, she’s still HIV negative, and our three children are also negative.
“In my previous support group of about 35 people, we have more than 10 women who are HIV positive and married to men that are HIV negative.
“We are all still in a loving and healthy marriage. It’s all about taking the medication properly, once you have undetectable viral load, the risk of transmitting the virus is very low.
“We use our serodiscordant status to inspire, educate and initiate dialogue among our members and also HIV negative people that one can have a long, loving and fulfilling relationship, in spite of their sexual status,” he said.
Serodiscordant relationship, also known as mixed-status, is one where one partner is infected by HIV and the other is not.
According to him, before medical advancement and understanding about the link between viral load and transmission, most people living with HIV were worried whether they will be able to have relationships.
“We now know that if you’re taking HIV medication and have an undetectable viral load, you can’t pass on HIV,” he said.
An HIV viral load is the amount of HIV measured in a volume of blood. The purpose of HIV treatment is to lower viral load to be undetectable.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines an undetectable viral load as fewer than 200 copies per millilitre (mL) of blood.
Akpan said that from 2010 to 2016, when he was the leader of the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) Support Group, over 60 seroconcordant marriages were recorded.
Seroconcordant relationships is one in which both partners are of the same HIV status.
“We have 52 support groups in Lagos; the examples I gave were those related to the groups I supervised before I became coordinator.
“You can imagine the number of marriages and relationships we have in all the groups by the time we get the updated data from the groups.
“This is to let you know that we are living a normal life whether as Serodiscordant or Seroconcordant couples,” he said.
Akpan said that living with HIV shouldn’t stop people from having fulfilling relationships and a healthy sex life when ready.
“People living with HIV fall in love, have sex, have fulfilling relationships, marry, have children (without passing on HIV).
“We do all the things that people who don’t have HIV do,” he said.
Akpan said the awareness about HIV/AIDS was higher than the stigma, adding that before, most people shun people living with HIV/AIDS, thus causing them to live an isolated life.
He appealed to the public to play more important role in reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.
According to him, this is by offering support and being vocal to correct the myths and stereotypes about HIV in their communities.