by Adams Abonu
Across all indices, the incidence of Human Immuno- Deficiency Virus, the precursor of the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, has taken a nose dive to the bottom. Not only has the prevalence rate of HIV dropped to a commendable 3.1 per cent from the about 3.8 per cent it peaked between 2004 and 2005, the amount of new HIV infection has also dropped significantly to less than 0.22 per cent (about 220,394 cases of infection) from a worrying peak of 0.49 (about 348, 564 cases) per cent in 2003.
Now, consider this: independent surveys conducted variously by the United Nations Agency on AIDS, the Federal Ministry of Health, and Health Systems Strengthening, all indicated that HIV prevalence among pregnant women of ages 15-25 years have dropped by 33 per cent- from six per cent in 2001 to 4.10 per cent in 2010, with “remarkable progress in the intervening period between 2010 and 2014,” according to the Health Systems Strengthening report.
To mention the rather drastic drop of HIV Transmission from Mother to Child, a large avenue to the national HIV burden is like stating the obvious.
These feats were not reached in a sudden flight. Concerted efforts by agencies such as the UNAIDS, the US President’s Emergency Funds for AIDS in Africa, The Global Funds (for AIDS); to mention a few, have seen multidimensional approaches to the struggle to end HIV. These approaches have strengthened prevention and control mechanisms like HIV Counselling and Testing and provision of treatment through Anti-Retroviral Treatments, thus, stemming the tides of the infection.
Since testing to know an individual’s status is the most crucial point in dealing with the menace of HIV, These efforts have seen a rise in the number of people tested with known results enlarging from 605,364 in 2006 to about four million in 2013, corresponding to a remarkable increase in the HCT sites across Nigeria from 206 in 2006 to 7075 in 2013.
Equally remarkable is the increase in the ART sites from 107 places in 2006 to 820 in 2013 which places more than 639,397 people living with HIV on treatment from a far lower 132,438 in 2006. Suffice to mention that provision of the ART services have been the major preoccupation of PERPFAR and the Global Fund.
As Nigeria marches towards the finish line on AIDS, the efforts of the National Control of AIDS, the government body responsible for harnessing all efforts towards fighting HIV/AIDS, are worthy of commendation. NACA has shown inspiring prudency in managing the funds and logistics that accrued to the struggle and led from the front in innovation and institutional strengthening. NACA’s Director General, John Idoko, is one who has shown requisite wherewithal on the job and won the confidence of both people living with HIV/AIDS and development partners.
In the course of fighting AIDS to a finish, NACA has churned out policies that are geared towards HIV prevention and effective treatment for those already living with the virus.
Government commitment towards ending the pandemic in Nigeria, though not entirely impactful, has yielded considerable results. In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan launched the Presidents Comprehensive Response Plan to accelerate achievement of key interventions like PMTCT and the HCT. Recently, too, the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme dedicated up to N8bn towards Elimination of Mother- to- Child Transmission of HIV and provision of treatments for those in need.
This fund has seen the PMTCT coverage rise modestly from 17 per cent in 2010 to 30 per cent in 2014. Then, there is the important issue of policy that attempts to streamline HIV-related issues like discrimination and stigmatisation which are hurdles to implementation of policies.
In a landmark legislation that shows government’s preparedness to end HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, President Jonathan recently signed into law the Anti-Stigma Bill passed by the National Assembly. This legislation which provides for prevention of discrimination against those living with HIV and makes access to health care a human rights issue is a welcome development as Nigeria aspires to end AIDS.
The legislation provides reprieve for People Living With HIV/AIDS represented by NEPHWAN and a needed boost for partners like UNAIDS. The perspective of encouraging more testing to know HIV status of individuals is also enhanced by this legislation. According to Idoko, “the law will help more Nigerians to seek testing treatment and care without fear of stigma and discrimination.”
What this translates into is a veritable ground for further strides in ending HIV prevalence within the population.
It is remarkable that within the measured time frame of 2005-2013, Nigeria’s policies and actions have seen a reduction up to 35 per cent of new cases of HIV infection.
This is in conformity with similar efforts made across sub-Saharan African countries like Zambia, Congo, South Africa which have commiserate burden of HIV infection. Considering Nigeria’s demographic peculiarities, the country could be most commended in her efforts.
Assuredly, Nigeria will be able to end the pandemic by the projected year, 2030, if the current tempo is consolidated. A HIV-free generation is within sight already, kudos to the collaboration of all stakeholders in the fight.
– Adams Abonu is a development journalist. He wrote from [email protected], and tweets from @adamsabonu
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.