Several factors among lack of adequate public sensitisation of the people and refusal of Nigerians to undergo test to ascertain their health status, are hindering the war against HIV/AIDS
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Dec. 23, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
NIGERIAN’S war against the dreaded Immune Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, raised serious questions at this years’ World Aids Day celebrated on December 1. In Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other cities and towns where the day was observed, there were growing fears and concern over the effectiveness of the war following chilling statistics on the resurgence in the number of people affected by the dreaded disease. Stakeholders and participants at the one-week event agreed that despite the huge amount of money spent and the measures put in place to combat the disease, the battle against HIV/AIDS was getting tougher as the rate of infected persons in various parts of the country continued to soar.
In Abuja, the national agency for the control of AIDS, NACA, organised a week-long event to mark the World AIDS Day. The event which featured sensitisation workshops, rallies, radio and television shows, climaxed in a public enlightenment lecture at the Eagles Square on Sunday, December 1.
Like those that took place in other parts of the country, the Abuja event which had the theme: ‘Take Charge, Get Tested,’ served as a wake-up call for many. Speakers at the event appealed to Nigerians to submit themselves for HIV/AIDS test. A research conducted by the World Health Organisation, WHO, in 2012, stated that about three million Nigerians are currently living with HIV and that more than half of these number are between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
The implication of this finding is that youths in the country are the most infected. What is more worrisome is that a large percentage of the infected youths are not even aware of their HIV/AIDS status. The report added that only about 15 percent of the infected youths actually know their status. The lack of awareness about their HIV/AIDS status by youths and other categories of people is one of the many impediments in the battle against the killer disease.
According to John Idoko, director-general of NACA, it is one of the reasons why there are still hundreds if not thousands of infected youths in the country. Idoko, who was one of the speakers at the event, added that the battle against AIDS would be easier if more people get tested to ascertain their status. “The first step in fighting AIDS is to get tested. If your status is not ascertained by you, nothing can be done. There are many challenges in the area of prevention, treatment, stigmatisation and many others but the first place to start is to get tested.”
But fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS in a country where there are thousands of infected people is no easy task. In Nigeria, about 12 States including the federal capital territory Abuja, carry about 70 percent of the burden of people living with HIV/AIDS with Benue State having the highest ratio of infected persons.
Highlighting the agency’s effort at the reducing the spread of the disease in the country, Idoko said NACA recently launched a campaign known as the presidential comprehensive response plan, PCRP. This plan involves providing free HIV testing across the country and the provision of anti retroviral drugs for those who test positive.
Priscilla Ibekwe, deputy director and programme coordinator, NACA, said the agency has made significant progress since the campaign was launched. “We have done a lot of sensitisation and meetings at the state level. We have met with commissioners of health and stakeholders in various states. We have trained them and have returned them to their states to also train other people. I can boldly say that all hands are on deck in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Outside Nigeria, the WHO says more than two million adolescents in the world, between the ages of 10 and 19 years are living with HIV. Worse, many do not receive the care and support they need to stay in good health and prevent transmission. In addition, millions more adolescents are at risk of infection. This lack of treatment for infected persons resulted in a 50 percent increase in reported AIDS-related deaths in 2012. To curtail the spread of the disease, the WHO recommended that the needs of those already infected must be addressed in order to save others from being infected too.
Another factor that has made the battle against AIDS tougher is the reduction in foreign donations in recent times. In the early years of the disease, there were lots of organisations in the United States and Europe willing to make donations to third world countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya where the disease was very prevalent. Ibekwe confirmed that foreign assistance in the fight against HIV/AIDS had, indeed, reduced in recent times. She said instead of sending money to other countries, many foreign donors now prefer to use the money in their own country where they also have infected people.
She added that many countries have now developed their own way of fighting the disease instead of relying on foreign donors. “From 2008 till now, there has been a slight decrease in foreign donations and that is why the country is beginning to take ownership of the fight against HIV. The presidential comprehensive response was created to address this. The programme which is spearheaded by NACA, and other stakeholders is aimed at increasing domestic funding for AIDS response to about 50 per cent both at the federal and state levels”.
Friday Okonogua, an expert in health research, who also participated at the NACA event, acknowledge that foreign funding for HIV/AIDS had decreased because it had been going on for a long time without much result in the country, “If you have been giving money for a particular thing for a long time and there is no improvement in such issues, you are bound to be discouraged. Whether we like it or not, the statistics show that progress is not being made, can discourage donors from putting in money because it’s like putting water into a basket. The time has come when the government should put money where its mouth is, we should own the process. We do not always have to wait for USAID. What is going on now is country ownership, meaning that issues affecting Nigeria should be handled by Nigeria. They are to develop strategies, put in their own money there. When other countries see that this area is a priority, then they can come to support.”