As Nigeria continues to push for an end to HIV/AIDS cases through effective screening and treatment, Paul Obi writes on efforts targeted at ending the scourge by 2030
Since the discovery of AIDS case in Nigeria in 1986, the government adopted ANC sentinel surveillance as the system for assessing the epidemic. According to figures releases by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), sentinel survey data showed that the HIV prevalence increased from 1.2 per cent in 1991 to 5.8 per cent in 2001. After 2003, the prevalence declined to 4.4 per cent in 2005 before slightly increasing to 4.6 per cent in 2008, it declined to 4.1 in 2010 and further declined to 3.0 in 2014, according to the Federal Ministry of Health in 2014.
Nigeria’s HIV and AIDS epidemic is complex and comprises both a ‘generalised’ epidemic, affecting the general, including rural population, but also pervasive sub-epidemics with high prevalence among geographic and social groupings.
The most-at-risk populations contribute to the spread of HIV, heterosexual sex, particularly of the low-risk type, still makes up about 80 per cent. Mother-to-child transmission and transfusion of infected blood and blood products, on the other hand, account for the other notable modes of transmission.
Globally there are an estimated 34 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
According to NACA Acting Director General, Kayode Ogundemi, to get familiar with efforts to end the spread of HIV/AIDS, there is need to showcase the journey of the country’s HIV and AIDS response from inception; through the journey that averted projected crisis. He added that it requires commitment to address present day challenges, where the country now has an opportunity to end the virus.
Ogundemi explained that “the national response to HIV in Nigeria is multisectoral in nature, involving multiple stakeholders and coordinated by the NACA. State Agencies for the Control of AIDS (SACAs) have been established in 34 states and FCT. HIV/AIDS Response programmes and interventions include HIV Counseling and testing (HCT), Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT), interventions for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education (FLHE), behaviour change interventions and Home Based Care and support (HBC) interventions.”
Most importantly, the response is funded from domestic public and private sources and external sources including the Federal and State Government, Global Fund, PEPFAR, DFID, CIDA, World Bank and the UN system. The implementation of HPDP2 as part of the Multisectoral National Response commenced in 2010 and has made a considerable impact in implementation.
Ogundemi observed that “for all the work done, there is a need to articulate and showcase the achievements, discuss the lessons learnt and seek to set the pace for another phase to further tackle the epidemic and align Nigeria’s national response to the present global direction which focuses more on the youth and adolescents.” He further stated that “the collaboration of the Nigerian government with the World Bank has birthed the implementation of many interventions which has provided results. It is important that after the implementation of the HPDP 2, the activities and achievements should be adequately disseminated in a way that it will resonate in Nigeria and the HIV/AIDS response worldwide.”
To that effect, observers believed that identifying and transforming barriers into prevention opportunities is key to mitigating many of the difficulties associated with the treatment. The aim in following that pattern, according to officials is to reinvigorate and showcase the gains of HIV/AIDS multisectoral intervention to HIV and AIDS in Nigeria and to re-focus the national response.”
More so, to bring together experts to advance knowledge about HIV, present new research findings, promote and enhance scientific and community collaborations in Nigeria, an international conference is billed to hold this week in Abuja. The aim is to articulate and showcase the gains and best practice of the national response and HPDP2 implementation in Nigeria. It also include building a strong partnership for HIV prevention research, using the PrEP study as a case study, create platform for discussion on possible development of national and subnational new strategies to tackle HIV/AIDS.
According to officials, there is also the need to enhance community ownership and sustainability of all HIV/AIDS intervention in the country, build innovative networking and collaboration with business community, government, youth organisations, and science in order to develop national and sectoral plan to strengthen HIV prevention and treatment efforts.
In line with the push to end the pandemic, public awareness has to be keyed into the programme. Thus, last week also witnessed the launch and presentation of the simplified version of the Anti-discrimination Act and official launch of the strategic documents to help in the reduction of stigmatisation and elimination of the scourge.
At the unveiling, NACA Director of Coordination and Partnership Support, Dr. Emmanuel Hassan, explained that the new version has become imperative given the difficulties associated with the standardised version. Hassan maintained that fighting stigmatisation is crucial in ending the spread of the virus by 2030. He stated that there are several issues that drive stigma but ignorance is the basic fact that we cannot overlook. “The simplified version of the 2014 Act has broken it down for anybody to understand and know their rights when they are being violated. It also makes it easy for people to know that there are verses in the Bible and Q’uaran that supports that.
“You don’t need to discriminate against your neighbour or family or any other person in the society whether in the home or community or in the church or mosque that has HIV or is affected by HIV/AIDS.That is why these verses have become important because we know that most Nigerians believe in God and most Nigerians belong to either the Christian or Moslem faith” he said.
He also added that they are bringing in the religious angle because it has a lot to do with faith and we know that majority of Nigerians belong to either of these faith groups and they respect and listen to their religious leaders, adding that, when these documents are actually interpreted into major languages across Nigeria, we are really hoping to meet the target of ending stigma by 2020 and also the overall bigger goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.
The National Coordinator for Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPHWAN), Victor Omoshehin, observed that there were lots of laws in this country “but people don’t know the content”, explaining that the Act was signed into law since 2014 November but not many people were aware that they exist.
“Since 2014 till now, we still have lot of individuals who face stigma, rejection, sack from work places and are even rejected in public health centres because of their status. You see people’s rights being violated and denied access to healthcare and people don’t know that they can go to two years imprisonment or be jailed for violating or denying someone access to such services or denying someone admission or job or the right to service your fathers’ land.”
Omoshehin also stated that “launching the document is one of the beginning of the steps for people to beginning to know and internalise the use of the law adding that they will use all the mechanism to ensure that the 3.5 million Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS have access to these documents and then to the wider stakeholders,” he maintained.