By Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
The Director General of National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Sani Aliyu, has said that the ongoing comprehensive survey of the HIV/AIDS status in Nigeria was the largest ever carried out in the world.
Aliyu in exclusive interview with THISDAY said that the programme being supported by the United States (US) government with $85 million will give detailed information about the state of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria
He also used the opportunity to commend the US government and foriegn donors for funding about 90 percent of HIV programmes in Nigeria, which he warned is not sustainable.
He said that cumulatively the US and foriegn donors have contributed over N5.6 billion to various intervention programmes in Nigeria.
According to him the Agency has “agreed to a population-based HIV survey, which would be the largest ever carried out in the world”. This will give us the true picture of the HIV epidemic in Nigeria. It will however, cost the US Government about $85 million; this is no mean achievement.
“Secondly, I have always been worried about the issue of sustainable HIV funding. As you know, more than 70 per cent of the entire HIV national response is being driven by external donor funds. In fact in 2016, 99 per cent of the HIV commodities brought into the country was courtesy of our donor friends. Definitely, that is not a healthy situation for the country to be in and in the long term is a major threat to the overall sustainability of the programme.
“Since the start of the HIV national programme in Nigeria, the US Government alone has spent more than $4.3 billion and Global Fund more than $1.3 billion, a colossal sum by any imagination”.
To this end, Aliyu called for increased local funding of the programmes, warning that the current over-reliance on foreign donors which were no longer guaranteed was not sustainable.
The NACA boss stressed that despite the fact that the programme was expensive, the local funding only required political will from the state governments.
“You might want to ask that as expensive as it is, can our governments really afford it? The answer is yes. I can tell you it’s all about political will and commitment. We have on record that some of the state governments are not significantly contributing to the HIV/AIDS programme. It costs about N50, 000 for a patient to go on treatment for a year, which is cheaper than standard treatment for ailments like complicated diabetes, or if you have difficult-to-treat hypertensive or cardiac disease,” he explained.
He further warned that if urgent steps were not taken to take over from foreign donors who were already scaling down aides to Nigeria, over a million patients currently under Anti-Retroviral Drugs treatment may lose their lives.
As a way out of the funding challenge, Aliyu suggested the state governments to contribute 0.5 percent of their monthly federal allocations to the HIV/AIDS.
According to him, the modest required amount to tackle the pandemic was a little over N20 billion in a year, which could easily be scooped from the 0.5 per cent monthly allocation.
He said: “The N20 billion is for a whole year. To be precise, it is actually N23 billion that we calculated because if you look at the entire federal allocation to the states in 2016, it was about N2.3 trillion, so we only need a per cent of that.
“The solution to the HIV epidemic in Nigeria lies with us, not the international community. You cannot have an effective HIV programme unless it is resourced properly. As I said earlier, our partners have put a lot of money over the last 10-15 years but these funds are not going to continue coming in forever.
“The solution is not to sit down and wait and then start running for a way out when the inevitable happens. The solution is what we are doing now. We are raising awareness, we are meeting with the states.
“We intend to follow this up with the governors at an individual level to ensure that 0.5 to 1.0 per cent from the federal allocation to states gets to their HIV programmes.”