Misconceptions About HIV and AIDS Among Pregnant Women in Nigeria

“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.” – Elizabeth Taylor

According to findings from a recent survey, a lot of misconceptions regarding the HIV virus and AIDS still exist among pregnant women in Nigeria.  Pregnant women who do not have at least a secondary level education were more likely to be less knowledgeable about HIV  and its mode of transmission. They were  also more likely to have specific misconceptions about HIV, especially if they practiced the Islamic faith.

These were some of the findings from a collaborative survey of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in government-owned facilities within the Gwagwalada Area Council, by researchers from the community health departments of the University of Abuja and the University College Hospital Ibadan.

The survey, which explored general knowledge and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS was published in the in an early 2013 issue of the African Journal of Reproductive Health. 84% of the women interviewed were within the 20 – 34 age range, while 64% had at least secondary level education.

Some of the observed misconceptions are:

11% of the respondents believed that HIV could be transmitted by shaking hands with another HIV/AIDS patient.

14.3% believed that HIV was a punishment for past evil deeds.

10.7% felt that HIV/AIDS could result from an act of God.

5% believed that HIV/AIDS could be prevented by making sacrifices.

6% of respondents believed that AIDS was an affliction on Africa by America

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), estimates that as at 2011, about 3.4 million people in Nigeria were living with the AIDS virus, with women constituting about 58% of this population. Among Nigerians between the ages of 15-24, the prevalence of HIV is estimated three times higher among women compared to their male counterparts. In fact HIV is the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age.

The presence and persistence of these misconceptions is very concerning and obviously poses significant barriers to efforts at halting the progression of the HIV/AIDS scourge in Nigeria. Dedicated public enlightenment and community outreach efforts  aimed at improving knowledge and awareness of HIV and AIDS has been going on in Nigeria for about 2-3 decades now. While the sampling was undoubtedly skewed towards less literate women, I am hopeful that these statistics represent an improving trend from the past. Otherwise, as suggested by the authors of the study, more community outreach programmes to intensify HIV education and counseling in Gwagwalada Area Council (and indeed among the general population) is required.