Poor HIV/AIDS Funding: NEPWHAN Call on Buhari Not to Sign 2016 Budget

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  •   to protest with HIV dead corpse in N’Assembly
  •   president’s UN commitment on ending virus in jeopardy

Paul Obi in Abuja

The Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN) wednesday in Abuja called on President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency withhold his assent of the 2016 Appropriation Act, given the negligible funds allocated to HIV/AIDS response programmes in the country.

The call came on the heels of the tokenistic allocation by the National Assembly of the sum of N1.5 billion for HIV/AIDS response programmes in the federation. THISDAY gathered that the National Agency for Control of HIV/AIDS (NACA) had earmarked about N18.9 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, the proposal was rather trimmed down by the two chambers of the National Assembly to N1.5 billion, which will only cater for Abia and Taraba States.

The cut also came at a time where the United States government, The Global Fund and other foreign donors have intimated the Nigerian government of their withdrawal from funding Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS projects across the 36 states of the federation.

Likewise, NEPWHAN stated that the withdrawal by foreign donors has been prompted by the rebasement of the Nigerian economy during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, where the country became Africa’s biggest economy. This was subsequently followed by the declaration of Nigeria by the World Bank as a Middle Income Country (MIC). A status which automatically removed the country from Low Income Country (LIC), depriving Nigeria the prospects of benefiting from enormous foreign aids, such as foreign funding of HIV/AIDS programmes.

But speaking to journalists in Abuja, NEPWHAN National Coordinator, Victor Omoshehin explained that Nigeria with the second highest burden of HIV/AIDS after South Africa, and with about 3.5 people living with the virus, both the executive and the legislators could not afford to cut down HIV/AIDS budgetary allocation.

According to Omoshehin, “under the past government, the national response was allocated about N10 billion as a domestic fund to finance treatment, prevention, care and support services in Taraba and Abia States and increase access to free HIV testing in more than 20 states in Nigeria.

“If the government of change will not increase the domestic funding for HIV, then Nigeria cannot own up to the responsibility of achieving the Vision 90:90:90 by 2030 and we cannot end AIDS by 2030,” he said.

“The US government and the Global Fund are responsible for about 95% of our national HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care programme. Presently, the US government has scaled down its services to only 3 LGAs in Nigeria, leaving a huge gap of supporting scale-up of services in the remaining 737 LGAs,” Omoshehin said.

NEPWHAN national Coordinator contended that considering poor allocation for HIV/AIDS response, “the President should not assent to the bill because the peoples’ concern has not been addressed. President Muhammadu Buhari should not sign this budget that the national assembly has made provision of N3.6 billion to buy exotic cars while they just allocate N1.5 billion to care for people living with HIV.

“We cannot continue to depend on from partners. We are Nigerians and not Americans. We pay our taxes to the Federal and state government of Nigeria. So Nigeria government should take responsibility of the people living with HIV in the country.”

“Provision for HIV/AIDS national response in the 2016 budget is too low to achieve any realistic targets; the more reason why Nigeria remains the second largest destination of HIV/AIDS in the world for the past 10 years.”

NEPWHAN urged the Presidency and the National Assembly “not to play politics with the lives of vulnerable and poor patients who depend on these allocations to have access to continuous live saving drugs. Nigeria should rather take ownership of HIV response as there is obvious dwindling of resources from donor agencies.

They called on the National Assembly “to help revamp the national HIV/AIDS response and the health sector by ensuring that the HIV/AIDS budget is reviewed before the final signing by the president as the lives and hopes of 3.5 million Nigerians remain in danger.”

Speaking further, Omoshehin explained that should the National Assembly fail to heed to its demands, NEPWHAN will have to adopt some drastic measures to protest against the low funding of HIV/AIDS programmes in the country.

He said: “We are going to storm the National Assembly, we will demonstrate, because with this budget, people living with HIV will no longer have access to treatment, care and support services, and a lot of people will die.

“And all we are going to do, we can definitely go to National Hospitals or any hospitals in Abuja and get the corpse of people who are effected with HIV, who have died and then we take this corpse to national assembly if that is what they want.”

Meanwhile, with the present budgetary allocation to HIV/AIDS response, President Buhari’s United Nations commitment to end the HIV/AIDS virus is now in jeopardy.

Buhari had during the 70th UN General Assembly in New York, US, pledged to lead the fight against the virus, and to end AIDS by 2030 through commitment to fund and expand the scope of prevention and treatment of the disease.

At the epoch meeting in New York, Buhari told the gathering made up of UNAIDS Executive Director, world leaders and experts that Nigeria is keen in “working together to make HIV and AIDS history by 2030.”

Contrary, the 2016 budget allocation to HIV/AIDS response will not be enough to address key components of the programme geared towards testing, prevention, treatments and care.

The budget will delay Nigeria’s commitment to kick start the Vision 90:90:90 aimed at eradicating the virus by 2030.