Former African Presidents Bemoan Spread of HIV in Nigeria

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Say 5.7 million Nigerians live with the disease

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

Former African leaders under the aegis of Champions for AIDS-Free-Generation, on Thursday in Abuja, expressed concern that about 5.7million Nigerians, representing three per cent of the nation’s 170 million population were currently living with the dreadful HIV/AIDS.

The African leaders such as former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, a former Vice-President of Uganda, Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, made the remark when they led a team of United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) officials to visit the Nigerian Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his office.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who is also a member of the group was billed to be part of the visit but was unable to make it to Abuja yesterday as initially planned.
The ex-leaders urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to intensify efforts towards controlling the spread of the disease by deploying sizeable human and financial resources to relevant agencies established to control the disease.

Mungae advised the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy the same energy and resources it has deployed in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency to fight HIV/AIDS.
According to him, most Sub-Saharan countries are currently being ravaged by the disease because of lack of commitment to consciously fight the scourge as he urged Nigerian leaders to empower the agencies fighting the disease, noting that Nigeria is only next to South Africa in terms of HIV/AIDS prevalence.

He said: “ Relative success will be achieved when leaders are involved in the battle against HIV/AIDS. The disease will spread if not checked with necessary strategies and mechanism. AIDS would spread unless checked: the mistake we made initially in our countries was ignoring HIV when there was low prevalence.

“In 2001 the countries that were mostly affected were in Southern Africa: here in West Africa, prevalence rate were low, in Nigeria at one stage less than one per cent. AIDS is like cancer, it grows, had we paid attention at that time, we could possibly had prevented its spreading in West Africa especially here in Nigeria.

“What do we learn from that? Right now it is about 3.4 per cent and 3.4 per cent in a country the size of yours is very significant: it means more than three million people. Unless coordinated action by the heads of state and parliament is given both at the Federal and State level to be committed to fighting the prevalence.

“We have to keep the message of the prevention and the danger of HIV/AIDS in front of the nation, we must not let people forget that we have an enemy to fight. That is why I am here on behalf of my fellow former presidents, because you are one of the most important country in sub-Saharan Africa and AIDS is a challenge from here to South Africa.

“You are not just the largest country but you are the second most seriously affected country after South Africa and we all know the mistakes that the South Africans made initially, when they woke up, it was too late. That is why AIDS is a very serious challenge to the government of South Africa because it was given a chance to develop and we must prevent that from happening. You being seen to be concerned as the top leadership somehow has an effect on the top population.

“There is a perception that we in sub-Saharan Africa, affected by this challenge are allocating neither enough financial resources of our own nor enough effort. The thing is that, our failure to allocate resources in addition to what we receive from abroad is an indication of the importance or lack of importance we attach to the scourge.
He advised Nigeria to explore its expertise to commence production of anti-retroviral drugs in Nigeria and even sell to other African countries.

In his response, Saraki disclosed that Nigeria had relaxed in the war against HIV but assured the team that the National Assembly would deploy strong support to fight the scourge.
He said: “Are we concerned? Yes we are concerned, we all know the importance of the fight against HIV/AIDS. You are made the real point: we are beginning to relax and believe we have made enough success and as such the fight is no longer on the front burner as compered to other challenges.

“I believe that the initiative you have as former presidents is very good: on our part as the parliament we will take the challenges to ensure that we continue to advocate. We have not done enough, it is still a danger, yet we have made some progress: I am told it is more like two per cent but I will take your word.

“Wherever it is, it is still too high but it is less than where we were before at 4.2 per cent: but we can do more. We have shown this in the past with what we did with polio and Ebola.”