Today, December 1, marks the 35th anniversary of World AIDS Day with the theme “The time to act is now”. How has Nigeria fared in stemming the tide of the pandemic which reared its ugly head four decades ago, asks Jamila Musa
Nigerians have been battling the deadly HIV/AIDs scourge for over four decades and were griped with fear when some time ago the rumour mills indicated the halting of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR funding by the United States. PEPFAR is the U.S. Government initiative to help save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world. It is the cornerstone and largest component of the U.S. President’s Global Health Initiative.
With a special focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children, the Global Health Initiative’s goal is to save the number of lives by increasing and building upon what works and, then, supporting countries as they work to improve the health of their own people, including Nigeria.
For Nigeria, the time to act is far spent as the country has continued to rely on foreign donors to stem the pandemic even though at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York this year, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, with other key stakeholders pledged to expedite action in ending HIV/AIDS.
The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, months ago released a report which showed that the global spread of HIV/AIDS had reduced. Similarly, media reports in Nigeria credited a statement to Dr. Bilali Camara, the UNAIDS Nigeria Country Director to the effect that ‘‘Nigeria is among countries which has reversed their HIV trend’’ This, without stating the extent to which the disease had been reversed.
In 2014, UNAIDS reportedly released a report it called the ‘gap report’ which revealed that just 15 countries accounted for more than 75% of the 2.1 million new HIV infections that occurred in 2013.
“In every region of the world, the report finds that there are three or four countries that bear the burden of the epidemic. In sub-Saharan Africa, just three countries: Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda account for 48% of all new HIV infections. Meanwhile, the report also shows that entire countries are being left behind. Instructively, six nations: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russian Federation and South Sudan are said to be facing the triple threat of high HIV burden, low treatment coverage and no or little decline in new HIV infections.
In same period which this report covered, it gave a damning verdict on Nigeria as the country in the world with the highest HIV/AIDS mortality.
Nigeria also accounts for one third of all new infections among children in the 20 worst hit countries in sub-Saharan Africa. While Nigeria’s HIV infection rate of 3.2 percent may appear considerably low in comparison to Southern Africa’s 12.2 %, with a population of 52.98 million (Human Sciences Research Council, HSRC), Nigeria’s estimated population of 173 million however guarantees that the reality is of huge implication to the country.
The reality of which only people living with HIV/AIDs know, they have been abandoned by their friends and relatives and facing other challenges aside stigma, as attested to by a sufferer, Monisola.
“It’s not easy having to wake up in the morning and the first thing would be drugs, as these drugs have to be taken before your meals. This reality and the fact that it is for life, is not a small thing to deal with”. In her case, she is not only treating HIV, but has also had to contend with some other opportunistic infections like tuberculosis (TB).
Monisola is lucky to have access to anti retroviral drugs, the same cannot be said of those living with the disease at the grassroots where there is, aside other challenges, paucity of information, poor health care, poverty and good nutrition buttressing the point that HIV/AIDs remains a major public health crisis in Nigeria despite the seemingly disregarded status.
However, the United States (US) Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle has disclosed, at some events to mark the 35th anniversary of World AIDS Day, yesterday in Abuja that the US, through PEPFAR, had spent over $4.2 billion (over N800 billion) to address the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS in Nigeria in the past decade.
The US is also said to have spent nearly $65 billion dollars worldwide to support the fight against HIV/AIDS.
He denied recent media reports that the US had stopped PEPFAR funding, saying some reduction in the overall budget was not anticipated, rather attention would be given to the US services in areas with the greatest HIV burden while the most effective interventions would be supported.
“Our continued commitment to support the Nigerian government and its people remains strong. Indeed, as we are discussing with the new Nigerian administration, we think it important that the contribution of your government to our joint health partnership increase,” he said.
He emphasised that the efforts of PEPFAR had paid off as about 600,000 Nigerians were currently on HIV treatment in Nigeria, adding that in the past year; nearly 8.6 million people had received HIV counselling and testing services.
“Prevention messages and activities have reached over 300,000 people identified as most at-risk. Approximately, 55,000 pregnant women have received antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.” He further said and noted that 750,000 adults and children living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis received care services adding that more than one million children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS also received care and support.
In reprimanding Nigerian authorities, the envoy challenged the leaders of Nigeria, scientists, civil society, faith-based organisations, and the private sector to join together in solidarity to bring the menace of HIV/AIDS to a halt.
“We can create an AIDS-free generation where no one is left behind, but we must continue working together to make it happen,” he urged.
PEPFAR coordinator in Abuja Shirley Dady, said PEPFAR works with governments at all levels and civil society to achieve the level of success it has recorded so far in the war against HIV/AIDS.

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