by Wilfred Okiche
In 1981, while the human race celebrated the eradication of small pox, a strange kind of ailment reared its head, quietly planting it’s feet and firmly entrenching itself among us. Discovered first in a small group of homosexuals and defying all known medical cure, experts knew little about the virus, except that it seemed to be caused by a rare kind of pneumonia, and that its effects were as morbid as they were mortal.
Scientists went to work and thirty years on and millions of deaths later, we have an load of information, both of the disease and of the virus causing it, such that our generation is now known as the “AIDS generation”. Indeed we have never known a time without the disease. Time might heal all wounds but so far it hasn’t brought a cure to HIV/AIDS. However, scientists say we are closer than ever to finding a cure for the disease.
As nations mark the World HIV/AIDS Month, and President Goodluck Jonathan attends his first official post-inauguration visit to the United States for the United Nations AIDS Summit, we take a look at 30 years of this deadly phenomenon with emphasis on the Nigerian situation.
June 5 1981: U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first warning about a rare pneumonia called pneumocystitis, circulating among a small group of gay men. This marked the beginning of the AIDS pandemic as we know it.
1982: CDC coined the term AIDS for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, but the cause was still unknown.
1987: The first anti-retroviral (ARV) drug Zidovudine (AZT) was introduced. However, the virus proved to be resistant.
1996: In this year came the advent of the ‘cocktail therapy’. A mix of different classes of ARV drugs that would change the face of HIV therapy and help people with the disease live longer. It would also help to prevent transmission from mothers to their offspring.
2011: No cure, no vaccine.
Since 1981, an estimated 30million people have died of HIV-related causes, 34million people are currently living with the virus, while 7000 new infections occur everyday.
Globally, young women make up 60% of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) but here in Sub Saharan Africa, the number is put at 71%.
Nigeria has about 3.3million people currently living with HIV, most of whom are young people. This means that about 3.6% of our population is infected.
The first case in Nigeria was identified in 1985 but reported in a conference in 1986.
Chances are you know one person living with the virus.
Nigeria is the country with the one of the highest HIV/AIDS burdens, second only to South Africa.
Benue state is the most affected state with a prevalence rate of about 10%. Akwa ibom, Anambra, Plateau and the F.C.T follow suit. Kebbi, Enugu, Ebonyi and Jigawa recorded the lowest numbers.
The top 3 modes of transmission in Nigeria are heterosexual sex, blood transfusion and mother-to-child transmission.
The reasons for the high incidence in our women is a simple lack of or limited awareness of their sexual and reproductive rights.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
Between 2001 and 2009, infections have declined by 25% and a record 1.4million people have started Anti Retroviral therapy.
Male circumcision, use of vaginal gel microbicides, early HIV treatment and a certain Thai Phase 3 vaccine are recent advances that are expected to strengthen the fight against HIV.
HIV infection is no more a death knell or even a death sentence as you can live a healthy productive life with the virus.
*Figures were culled from the UNAIDS 2010 Global Report.