By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The National Action for Control of AIDS (NACA) has stated that Nigeria and six other countries, Jamaica, Rwanda, Mozambique, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Botswana, are the only nations in the world that have shown great resilience in withstanding the COVID-19 impact on HIV-AIDS epidemic.
The agency, whose mandate is to coordinate intervention efforts to tackle the spread of HIV in the country, said a lot of milestones have been achieved in this regard in the last 14 years.
Speaking at a ceremony to showcase the progress made in checking HIV-AIDS since the establishment of NACA, the Director-General of the agency, Dr. Aliyu Gambo, said apart from the reduction in infection rate, the country has increased the number of persons living with HIV-AIDS receiving regular treatment.
He said: “In 2017, we had only 16,000 of them on treatment, and if you go back to 2007 when we started, we had only 1,000 of this population on treatment. In 2020, we had almost 150,000 of the key affected population on treatment, and the sites where we give them these services have increased astronomically from zero in 2007, 10 in 2017 to 60 in December 2020, and we are not done yet, and this is what is capturing the attention of the world in Nigeria.”
Gambo said NACA has made progress in ensuring greater synergy in the response to the HIV scourge, adding that “all HIV stakeholders have now come together to do what we call alignment-to have one HIV national response, where we bring everybody under one roof and every programme complementing each other.”
He also noted that the country’s data on the tracking of HIV-AIDS has become more reliable in terms of capturing and sharing.
Gambo said the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the assistance from the Global Fund among other development partners is responsible for the milestones.
“COVID-19 struck when we were least expecting it, and when we were not ready. In March, April and May 2020, Nigeria was down in terms of the numbers we were capturing and getting to place on treatment, but after May, we jumped. What happened in June, July, and August in Nigeria has never happened in any part of the world.
“Nigeria rebounded very strongly. Because of that, Nigeria is being recognised among six countries – Jamaica, Rwanda, Mozambique, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Botswana-that have survived the COVID-19 impact.
“Nigeria has set history in the sense that there is no other country in the world in the 17 years of PEPFAR programming that has grown within the last 18 months and within the last one year like Nigeria. No country has ever added close to 300,000 people in one year. Nigeria has added in the last 18 months about 400,000 persons on treatment, and about 100,000 of the 400,000 are key affected populations,” he said.
The DG stated that according to the United States Government, “among all PEPFAR supported countries in the world, Nigeria has the greatest yield in the last fiscal year between September 2019 and October 2020.”
According to Gambo, “This makes Nigeria the highest net new in PEPFAR history.
“This is what is capturing the attention of the world. Despite COVID-19, Nigeria has rebounded strongly, and Nigerian HIV response is now leading the world, and giving the world confidence that Nigeria is on track to control this epidemic earlier than expected.
“To control this epidemic, we must keep the current momentum going. We must not lift our feet off the pedal. We must keep the current funding going until we control the epidemic.”