The authorities must do more to stem the burden

Nigeria will join the rest of the world today to commemorate the World Aids Day. This year’s event, with the theme, ‘Let Communities Lead’ should compel authorities in Abuja and the 36 states as well as other stakeholders to collaborate on how to reduce the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) burden in our country. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), today presents another opportunity “to reflect on the progress made to date, raise awareness about the challenges that remain to achieve the goals of ending AIDS by 2030 and mobilise all stakeholders to jointly redouble efforts to ensure the success of the HIV response.” 

According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), Nigeria ranks third among countries with highest burden of HIV infection in the world. The 2019 Nigeria National HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact survey found that 1.9 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria as of 2018. However, HIV and AIDS are far more prevalent among people in prisons and high-risk drug users, in particular people who inject drugs (PWIDs). According to recent UNODC studies on HIV prevalence in Nigerian prisons, 2.8 per cent of people in prisons and 9 per cent of people who inject drugs (PWIDs) live with HIV/AIDS. The prevalence rate of Nigerians between the age bracket of 15 and 49 with HIV infections is 3.1 per cent, making the country the second largest in Africa, after South Africa.  

While the prevalence varies from one state to another, it is estimated that about two million Nigerians are infected with the virus. However, what saddens is that Africa’s most populous country demonstrates so much ambivalence to the disease. For sure, Nigeria has made significant gains in the battle against the menace. It reportedly achieved a 35 per cent reduction in new infections between 2005 and 2013, a no mean feat. But there are still dreary statistics of how many young people are still being infected through careless sexual habits. It is indeed worrisome that HIV/AIDS epidemic is still a serious public health issue with enormous negative impact on the health of Nigerians and the economy. Yet one of the key issues fingered by health authorities for the present scary situation is inadequate funding but there are other challenges. For instance, less than 50 per cent of people needing anti-retroviral treatment have access while barely half the numbers of people living with HIV know their status.  

It is even more disturbing that critical agencies of government continue to understate the national prevalence rate of the dreaded disease as well as the total number of people living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (PLWHAN) because it wants the country to look good to the AIDS world. There is also the challenge of funding, especially for the health sector. The annual allocation for health in Nigeria is far below the 13 per cent recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the 2001 African Union (AU) 15 per cent Abuja declaration. The consequence of this situation in the health sector is that several Nigerians die needlessly of both preventable and curable diseases. In the case of HIV/AIDS, inadequate funding has limited the capacity of health authorities on tackling the challenge.    

Therefore, today presents another reminder that there is an urgent need for government, at all levels, to show renewed commitment in fighting the HIV/AIDS scourge. Health authorities must scale up their enlightenment campaigns, particularly in the rural areas, on the many risk behaviours that could lead to infections, including unprotected sex, said to account for about 80 percent of new infections in the country. Nigeria has what it takes to stop new transmission and improve the lives of those living with the virus.  

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