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GBV Survivors Utilize IHVN Seed Funds for Financial Empowerment

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2023 estimates, 31% of women in Nigeria have experienced physical violence since age 15. Gender-based violence (GBV) has been defined as “any violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, girls, men and boys.”

The Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) provides gender-based violence services such as HIV testing services, post-exposure prophylaxis for rape survivors mental health screening and psychosocial support screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and treatment for minor injuries. IHVN also provides pre-exposure prophylaxis for eligible survivors, emergency contraceptives to avoid unintended pregnancies in female survivors of childbearing age, tailored post-violence care services to clients who are undergoing intimate partner violence, and maintenance of an efficient referral system in our supported states to enhance referrals for non-clinical services like social support, legal counsel, and financial empowerment.

In December 2023, as part of programs to mark the 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence in women and girls, IHVN provided House Hold Economic Strengthening (HHES) interventions to about 20 indigent survivors of GBV across the four supported states. In the FCT, five gender-based violence survivors received the seed fund of ₦50,000.00 through New Hope Agency, a community-based organization to support their petty trades and increase their resilience.

A single thread that runs through the stories of the survivors is that of resilience to move beyond the pain that they have experienced to forge a new life for themselves and their children.

42-year-old Vashira Ezra shed tears of joy upon receipt of the funds. “I felt good and happy. I did not expect that one day, anybody would give me money to start anything.”

Vashira, who hails from Northeast Nigeria, but now lives in Abuja, Nigeria, decided to use the money for grain business. She bought freshly harvested guinea corn from a local market and is storing it till mid-2024 when she expects to make 70% profit from selling the grains.

“I chose the grain business because I have a passion for it. If I didn’t go for grain business, I would have spent the money anyhow. While growing up, my parents were in that line of business, and I saw how profitable it was.”

Vashira’s hopes are high that she will stabilize and expand the business from just guinea corn to other grains. In addition to selling grains, she does menial cooking jobs and hair braiding. She is optimistic that she will continue to move beyond the emotional hurt that she experienced when her partner and father of three children, abandoned her with nothing to fend for them.

Another beneficiary, Rebecca Akpan, who hails from South-South Nigeria and currently resides in Abuja, used the funds to start an akara (bean cake) business.

“I saw that if I sell close to a primary school close to where I reside in Jikwoyi, I’ll have a quick turnover. So, I bought beans, sieves, and pots, and started the business.

Every day, I grind one and a half mudus of beans. Sometimes, I fry potatoes along with it. Sometimes, I sell up to ₦7,000.00 daily. One thing I make sure to do is make a daily thrift saving,” she adds.

Besides selling akara, Rebecca is also learning how to make fabric bags and has big plans to expand the business. Being busy has given her some relief from the physical and emotional abuse that she has endured and focus on carving a better life for herself and her three children.

Agatha Jibrin, another beneficiary, used the funds to start buying and selling provisions like drinks, noodles, and biscuits. She was also able to repair her faulty fairly used grinding machine which she had obtained earlier, for a second income for grinding vegetables and grains in her neighborhood.

Agatha is from one of the North-Central States in Nigeria but now resides in Abuja.

Though the pain from the neglect of her partner who abandoned her and married her cousin is still there, with counseling and empowerment, she is moving on to work and take care of her three children.

“When I got the money, I felt like I was in heaven. Even though it was Christmas time, I was not tempted to use the money to buy things for my children. I bought drinks and sold them at a good price to attract more buyers,” she says.

Like the other beneficiaries, 43-year-old Cecilia Akwara, a mother of five, has received financial and psychosocial support after surviving physical and emotional abuse. Cecelia, who is from South-East Nigeria, lives in Abuja with her five children.  When she received the fund, she invested in making fascinators, head ties, and hats.

 “I like headwear and the creativity required in designing something new. Whenever I work on these fascinators, I feel happy. I find joy in it,” she says with a big smile. She uses the income from the fascinator and hat business to augment what she gets from working in a creche. After being deprived of the opportunity to work for more than 20 years by her partner, she is happy to work and looks forward to learning different styles of fascinators, and getting a shop to display and sell them.

The fund, though little, is changing the narrative for these women.

IHVN Gender-Based Violence Program Lead, Mrs. Derby Collins Kalu explains that, “the provision of the HHES was done to improve the lives of the survivors. We developed a set of criteria for selection of eligible survivors for the intervention. We adopted the use of HHES assessment tool but made a few modifications which included that the client is currently undergoing GBV and has reported this in the last one year

These beneficiaries have made tremendous progress and have recovered from emotional turmoil. The funds they received helped them to restart their businesses and improved the quality of their lives. The IHVN program is structured to provide both clinical and non-clinic post-violence care to survivors in the health facilities. We also program in the communities through partnership with Community Based Organizations to promote primary and secondary prevention of GBV for all post violence care survivors of GBV. Through Community Based Organization (CBOs), we also provide specialized age appropriate GBV prevention messages for adolescent and young people in the schools. We have equally integrated our GBV intervention program into the package of care for the key populations,” she says.

TB Advocate Mobilizes Mother, Children to Access TB Services

When Ms. Prisca Peter, a 34-year-old single mother residing in Lagos State, Nigeria, started feeling ill in November 2023, she went to the nearby chemist to buy over-the-counter drugs including cough syrup. However, the medications did not alleviate the weakness, fever, loss of appetite, drenching night sweats, constant cough, and drastic weight loss she experienced.

Her condition deteriorated such that she was unable to walk or continue her work as a cleaner in a hotel. The Good Samaritan who came to her rescue was Mr. Sunday Michael, a TB survivor and advocate.  Sunday was diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis in Ori-Okuta Primary Health Center Ikorodu LGA, and he referred her to the same facility in January 2024.

Mr. Michael said, “I noticed she was coughing badly, I asked her some questions and noticed she had almost the same symptoms I had, so I decided to take her to the health center I went to for my treatment and proper care.”

The USAID TB LON 3 project which the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) implements, supports screening and treatment for tuberculosis in 2,197 facilities and Ori-Okuta Primary Health Center is one of the supported facilities.

At the hospital, Prisca was screened for tuberculosis and identified as a presumptive TB case. Afterward, her sputum was collected for evaluation, and she was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) disease. She immediately commenced treatment and took her medications as prescribed.

“Immediately I was told that the sickness could be cured, I didn’t doubt it. I was tired of buying over-the-counter medications and still not getting well. I thought I would even die. I even wondered who would care for my children if something happened to me,” she said.

The USAID TB-LON 3 project also conducted contact tracing. Her four children aged 12, 10, 8, and 5 years were screened for TB and they were all identified as presumptive tuberculosis cases. Upon evaluation of the samples, two of them tested positive for tuberculosis and have been placed on treatment while the other two are receiving free tuberculosis prevention therapy with support from the USAID TB-LON 3 project.

USAID TB LON 3 Community Mobilization Advisor, Dr. Alege said, “Survivors of TB are a key part of our demand creation model as they’re often able to convince newly diagnosed persons who are yet to start treatment through their experiences. This model has been largely successful as the survivors’ point of view is usually more relatable to clients. The survivors on the other hand are more than willing to support healthcare workers in gratitude for saving their lives. Over time, TB survivors are also engaged as community volunteers to support those whose livelihood might have been negatively impacted by the disease condition.”

Prisca and her children are recovering. “If I was to pay money for the treatment, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. I want to thank your organization for the free treatment. I also want to tell anyone who doesn’t want to take the drugs to know that it is for their good. The drug works well and makes you strong again,” she said.

She promised to be a tuberculosis advocate in her community like Sunday who referred her to the facility and supported her when she could not walk to the facility to collect her medications.

The USAID/Nigeria Tuberculosis Local Organization Network (TB-LON 3) project is a five-year project to scale up tuberculosis services and find missing TB cases. It started in April 2020 and is engaging stakeholders in strengthening a resilient system for sustainable TB control in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, and Osun states. As of March 2024, 103,900 tuberculosis cases were identified, notified, and are undergoing treatment.

Community Screening Activities Identify 21,687 TB Cases in Four States

According to the 2022 World Health Organization Global TB Report, Nigeria ranks 6th globally and first in Africa with an estimated 467,000 tuberculosis cases in 2021.

To find tuberculosis cases, the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) is combing communities in Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and Osun states to sensitize and screen for tuberculosis. The USAID Tuberculosis Local Organization Network (TB-LON 3) project being implemented in these states is aimed at rapidly scaling up tuberculosis services through community implementation and partner collaboration.

Umar Hawawu, a widow in Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria was identified through one of the community interventions. Though Hawawu often went to a clinic for antenatal services, her regular complaints of cough were attributed to her pregnancy and constant worries over the death of her husband.

Her concerned sister-in-law introduced her to a Community Screening Officer, who collected her sputum and linked her to Sacred Health Hospital in Lantoro, Abeokuta for treatment. Hawawu ensured that she took her drugs daily as instructed in the hospital where she was admitted for one month.

“All my children including the baby were tested but didn’t have TB. I’d like to tell everyone that tuberculosis treatment is free and once you complete your treatment as instructed, you will be well again,” she says.

Another tuberculosis survivor, Mr. Abubakar Abdullahi notes that his lean income as a tea seller compared to hospital charges discouraged him from seeking health care in a health facility.

“When I started coughing and losing weight, I visited a hospital to complain but I was asked to pay N14,000 for preliminary tests. I couldn’t afford the amount and had to go home.”

Abdullahi accessed free tuberculosis screening at his doorstep when a Community Health Officer took his sputum.

“The Community Health Officer came back again to take me to a hospital close to my house in Remo North Local Government Area for medications. The nurse in charge told me that I had been diagnosed positive for tuberculosis. She counseled me on when and how to take the medications. I also received follow-up visits during the period of treatment of six months.”

Abdullahi is healthy now and has returned to his tea-selling business.

USAID TB-LON 3 Community Mobilization Advisor, Dr. Abiola Alege, says that the project has identified 21,687 tuberculosis cases through screening activities in communities from 2020 to date. “Community TB case-finding activities shouldn’t be ignored in our fight to identify all missing cases. This is because the cases identified by healthcare facilities are just the tip of the iceberg compared to what may be hiding within the communities,” she says.

Dr. Alege adds that “TB LON 3 program also focuses on preventive treatment for people exposed to tuberculosis. The project is committed to finding all missing TB cases and linking them to care.”

Happy TB Survivors Recount Experiences

Picture Above: TB survivor, Zainab Muhammed.

Smiles have replaced Zainab Muhammed’s constant cough and chest pain. 22-year-old Zainab went to a patent medicine store for cough syrup when she was plagued with constant cough and took herbal medicines when the symptoms persisted for two months. In January 2022, a community volunteer spotted her during routine community visits.

My greatest joy is when children are HIV free, and the mothers are healthy – Mentor Mother

Picture Above: Comfort O. counseling a client at a Health Facility in Abuja.

Comfort O. had a bumpy journey to hope and health after discovering her HIV positive status in an ante natal clinic in 2008. However, with the intervention of the HIV program implemented by Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) with financial support from PEPFAR through US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she is now living a healthy life with two HIV free children.