UNICEF: 150,000 Children in Nigeria Infected with HIV

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FG has spent $6.2bn on treatment, says NACA Text Box: *SGF promises free treatment for 50,000 victims

By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Segun Awofadeji in Bauchi

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that 22,000 children between the ages of 0 and 14 in Nigeria have been newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of children in this age group living with HIV to 150,000.

The National Action Against AIDS (NACA) has also said a total of $6.2billion was spent to identify and treat 70 per cent of the estimated 1,080,000 Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country.

This is coming as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, stated that President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated his commitment to actualising the target of eradicating HIV by approving the funding of additional 50,000 persons on treatment annually.

Similarly, UNICEF also disclosed that in Nigeria, about 22,000 new infections occurred in children between the ages of 0-14 in 2019, bringing the total number of children living with HIV in the age group to 150,000.

These revelations, which were contained in a UNICEF report released yesterday and made available to journaists in Bauchi by the Communication Officer, of UNICEF Bauchi Field Office, Mr. Samuel Kaalu, further revealed that almost 15 per cent of global AIDS-related deaths in children and adolescents globally occur in Nigeria.

“Approximately, every minute and 40 seconds, a child or young person under the age of 20 was newly infected with HIV last year, bringing the total number of children living with HIV globally to 2.8 million,” UNICEF said in the report.

The global organisation’s report warned that children are being left behind in the fight against HIV, even as it also warned of COVID-19 disruptions to HIV service delivery in one third of high burden countries

“Prevention efforts and treatment for children remain some of the lowest among key affected populations. In 2019, a little more than half of children worldwide had access to life-saving treatment, significantly lagging behind coverage for both mothers (85 per cent) and all adults living with HIV (62 per cent). Nearly 110,000 children died of AIDS that year. In Nigeria, 13,000 children aged 0-14 years died of AIDS-related cases in 2019.

“Despite some progress in the decades-long fight against HIV and AIDS, deep regional disparities still persist among all populations, especially for children. Pediatric coverage of antiretroviral treatment is highest in the Middle East and North Africa at 81 per cent, and lowest in West and Central Africa (32 per cent). In Nigeria, it is 36 per cent.

“The world is still struggling with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but there is now hope for a vaccine. But we must remember that there is no vaccine for HIV,” UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins, said in the report.

He added that: “Hundreds of thousands of children continue to suffer the impacts of the HIV epidemic. Children are still getting infected at alarming rates, and they are still dying from AIDS. Even with improvements in recent years, HIV treatment access for children and adolescents is unacceptably low, and much more needs to be done to ensure children get the treatment they need and deserve.”

Meanwhile, NACA has said $6.2 billion was spent to identify and treat 70 percent of the estimated 1,080,000 Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country.

It said the sum of $1.2 billion of the amount came from domestic sources while the balance came as grants from donor agencies and development partners.

Speaking at an event to mark this year’s World Aids Day yesterday in Abuja, the Director General of NACA, Dr. Gambo Aliyu, said the country has continued to make great strides in its response to the HIV pandemic with the collaborative efforts of development partners.

He said: “HIV prevalence in the last 18 years has reduced from a peak of 5.8 percent in 2001 to 1.3 percent in 2018, which implies that 13 out of 1,000 persons selected randomly in Nigeria are now likely to be positive. Last year, 44,830 Nigerians were estimated to have died from HIV/AIDS.

“We have spent $6.2billion to identify and treat 70 percent of the estimated 1,080,000 PLHIV and $1.2billion of this was from domestic sources.”

Aliyu also disclosed that self-testing for HIV is now a reality in Nigeria.

He however said the fight against HIV has not been spared by the recent COVID-19 pandemic which has affected the provision of HIV services across the country with a six month interruption in services.