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Experts task Nigerians on National HIV response

…as 5th National Conference on HIV holds in May

By Chioma Obinna

With over 80 per cent of the country’s national  response to HIV and AIDS donor-driven, health experts have expressed fear that the global economic recession may affect the efforts to combat the epidemic in Nigeria.

Addressing Journalists on the forthcoming  5th National Conference on HIV and AIDS in Lagos, the experts said  Nigeria should fully take ownerships of the programmes with a view to avert problems should these donor agencies reduce or withdraw their supports in future.

The Chairman Organising Committee and former Director General of the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Dr. Oni Idigbe who announced that the  3-day conference would hold from  2nd through  5th May explained that already there are signals that some of these donor partners may either cap up or reduce their supports.

Stressing the need for Nigeria to begin to look inward for supports for these intervention strategies said “To urgently address  the issue, Nigeria should gradually take the ownership of te national response to ensure it is sustained over time.

Idigbe also hinted that the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV & AIDS (UNAIDS), is going back to prevention for the next three to four years.  According to him, “the world is reverting to prevention because it has been proven and documented that by the Executive Secretary of UNAIDs that for every two new cases put on Anti retro viral (ARV) treatment, about five new cases will emerge.

“When  the epidemic started  initially  in this country, we were in the state of confusion and emergency. Initially, the message was on prevention.  We were able to find the three  modes of transmission; risky sexual behaviours,  Mother -to -Child -Transmission and blood and blood products.

We were able to fashion out our prevention strategy. But as soon as care and support of those  infected started coming  in,  ARVs  started coming in, we started  managing  infected cases. It looks like our prevention strategies started sliding. But  right now, the major trust of UNAIDS  is prevention for the next  three or four years.”

Still stressing why Nigeria should take ownership of the national response on HIV and AIDS,  he  regretted that the latest report on Prevention from  Mother -To Child -Transmission (PMTCT)  globally shows that Nigeria has the lowest coverage in the world and this,  he said, calls for concern.

Idigwe explained that these facts and others informed the theme of the conference billed to hold in Abuja, “The Nigeria  HIV Response: Ownership and Sustainability.”

He explained that the conference which would be graced by both local and international stakeholders  on HIV and AIDS, announced that the research leader of the latest promising HIV vaccine in Thailand, Nelson Michael will be around to intimate the participants on the latest  trails on the vaccine, and the way forward.

“The conference would put in place structures to be able to tackle the epidermic as it changes, look at how far the country has gone, progresses made and  what challenges to be tackled and way forward.”

Speaking, Vice Chairman, Organising Committee and the Country Director, Harvard  PEPFAR/ AIDS Prevention Initiative Nigeria Plus (APIN)  Dr. Ernest Ekong also explained that the Conference would showcase a lot of research work on HIV and AIDS treatments, what has been done, best practices and the specifics about HIV.

Ekong who disclosed that the Scientific conference would also involve the Traditional Medicine Practitioners said the conference would examine the linkages between HIV and AIDS.

Corroborating the views of  Idigwe on ownership of the programme,  he said the conference would look at the successful transition of some of these programmes to Nigerians as there have been directives that within the next few years most of the institutions should hand over to indigenous non governmental organisations to manage.

On why Nigeria has been able to access Global Fund on HIV successfully, he explained that the key problem  initially was that Nigeria did not know  the specific areas to write need for them to access the fund.

“Our key problem was how to be able to write and know specific areas that we should place emphasis on to be able to access the fund. But now people have been tutored enough. NACA has arranged that we now have enough capacity people that are able to write proposals. I am not speaking for PEPFAR.  But anybody who starts a patient on treatment will  not stop giving assistance to such a person.

This question about the US government when they withdraw what happens? If  the US government has been able to start a number of patients on treatments,  it is up to that body to make sure that at least those people on treatment are given drugs throughout their lives time. We have been assured this at many meetings not only in Nigeria that if for instance US government is pulling out its  PEPFAR programme, they will still be providing funding to maintain number of patients that are currently taking  treatment through PEPFAR programmes”.


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