By Paul Obi in Abuja
In a new push to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, the federal government and the United States (US) government Thursday signed a $90 million agreement Â to conduct National Health Indicator and Impact Survey to combat the virus.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Nigerian and US governments is geared towards conducting an efficient impact assesment on HIV that will facilitate effective treatment of persons living with the virus.
The agreement to conduct the survey will also cover Hepatitis B and C, and will likewise assist in tracking uptake of HIV services among the population and estimate the prevalence of HIV related risks behaviour in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
According to officials, the impact survey will be the largest HIV survey to be conducted in the whole world and will be streamlined to cover households, involving about 170,000 people.
The programme is expected to gulp a whooping $90 million, to be funded by the US government.
The survey is being conducted under the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Health and National Agency for the Control of AIDs (NACA).
The agreement raises hope for Nigeria’s HIV intervention programmes considering recent worries over US government decision to withdraw HIV funding from Nigeria.
Speaking at the signing of the MoU in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said: â€œWhat we have just done is to sign an MoU that will make us do many things.
“The survey will put behind us the concept of making guess work out of the burden of HIV in Nigeria.
â€œWe simply do not know how many people are infected with HIV and so this study will help us to determineÂ Â how many people truly have HIV in Nigeria.
â€œIt is going to be the largest of its type with close to 200,000 people being surveyed. Not only are we going to look for HIV, we are also going to look for Hepatitis B and C,” Adewole added.
According to Adewole, “If you go through the MoU, we are also going to link them up with treatment. So if you are not treated, that is not the end of the world, we are giving you hope because we will link you up with treatment.â€
The US Ambassador to Nigeria,Â Stuart Symington, tasked Nigerians to embrace and support the survey given that it will improve the health of Nigerians and will enable Nigeria do what has not been done in the world.
He said: “This survey is an opportunity to lift up the health of all Nigerians to set an example from Nigeria for the whole of this continent and for the whole of this world. This is in the power of every Nigerian to participate in this survey.â€
The Director General of the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Aliyu Sani, maintained that the signing of the MoU will likely be a major landmark for the HIV response in the country.
â€œToday is a good day for Nigeria and a good day for the national HIV response. This is because we have taken a major decision to define a true extent of the HIV epidemic in the country,” he said.
Sani explained: â€œWhen I started this jobÂ about one and a half years ago, the first thing I noticed wasÂ Â the problem of data, the precision of the data and our inability to know exactly how many people we have living with HIV in the country and where they are.
â€œThis survey is a household survey that will cover about 170,000 people in the country, it will be nationwide, it will be very complex, its going to be the largest survey ever done in the world for HIV. It will certainly be the most expensive, but there is a reason behind it.”
According to Sani, â€œWe have shuttled in the past few years to define the true extent of the HIV epidemic in the country, we have struggled to find patients to put on treatment and we have also struggled to present to the world the resources that have been put into the HIV response.
â€œThis survey will sort all that out. It will give us excellent information, more precise estimatesÂ of the true extent of the problem and more importantly, we hope it will show that Nigeria has used the resources that has been given to it over the years for the HIV response,â€ he stated.