Isah Mohammed Takuma is married and has a one-year-old daughter. At 32, he is a university graduate and currently serves as the National Coordinator of the Association of Positive Youths Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
He says he draws daily inspiration from his personal experience to support HIV prevention efforts in Nigeria. “I was 19 when I first had sex. I thought one time was not enough to get infected with HIV,” he said.
Even when he started to fall sick, he simply could not believe that HIV was the cause of his health troubles. He was 23 when he tested HIV-positive and his life changed forever.
“It was a nightmare and I had to go through hurdles to recover. My CD4 count was low; my viral load was high. I was like a walking corpse,” Mr Takuma recalled.
Antiretroviral treatment soon put him back in good health. He returned to university and completed his studies much later than planned, but he was happy to be alive and healthy again.
At university, he started a support group for young people living with HIV. He told his story to peers as a way to prevent new HIV infections. “Many other people in my class got to know their HIV status because of my efforts, and I am really proud about that,” Mr Takuma said.
The Nigerian Government reports that more than 6.7 million people were tested for HIV in 2014 and that it continues its efforts to expand treatment, with coverage at 22% in 2014. The global treatment target set for 2020 is that 90% of people living with HIV are on life-saving antiretroviral therapy.
Despite the challenges that people living with HIV face in the country, Mr Takuma said the fact that he and his wife have an HIV-free child “tells the story of what Nigeria’s HIV response has done in the lives of many young people like me.”
Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world. In 2014, 3.4 million people were living with HIV in the country, of which 380 000 were children below the age of 14. HIV prevalence among young women between the ages of 15 and 24 was 1.3% in 2014, almost twice as high as it was for their male counterparts.
Like Mr Takuma, Faith, 16, is passionate about advocating for HIV prevention among young people.
The soft-spoken and cheerful student was born with HIV but only got to know her status at the age of 10. However, she started on antiretroviral treatment when she fell ill two years ago.
She is now healthy and advocates for treatment for all. “I have even been on radio to speak about HIV,” she said. “We want adolescents and youth to understand that it is possible to have a normal life without any stress.”
“We also want to take part in international engagements to share our stories and be an inspiration to other girls and young people,” she said.
Faith views her involvement with the Association of Positive Youths Living with HIV in Nigeria as vital to ensuring that women and girls enjoy healthy and productive lives.
She aspires to graduate as a nurse to help save lives in Nigeria.