2013: Sustaining the battle against HIV/AIDS 

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By Charles Kumolu

Ebere Unachi (not real name) had lost her husband during the infamous 2011 Christmas day bomb blast in Suleja, Niger State. The untimely demise of the father of four left the 38-year old petty trader, with the huge responsibility of taking care of her large home.

She had expected that the little money she makes from the sale of vegetable at the Suleja market, would make a difference but that was not to be as her finances depleted the more, making her to stop the trade.

Her case became very complicated because she had no training or vocational skill which would have enabled her to secure a job. Her only source of livelihood was a lorry driver she started dating after the demise of her husband. Apart from the fact that she risked being infested by any of the deadly sexually transmitted disease, the money she made from the illicit affair did very little to sustain the family.. Fortunately for Ebere, she was rescued from poverty and the promiscuous  life she just embraced by the National Agency for the Control of Aids, NACA.

She is one of the numerous beneficiaries of NACA’s  skills acquisition training at Anawim Skills Acquisition Centre in Abuja. Through this initiative the agency under the leadership of Prof John Idoko, is protecting women who fall under the vulnerable group category against HIV and Aids.

It was gathered that NACA gives a special and unique attention to women because nearly 60 per cent of the 3.5 million people living with HIV in the country are women.

Commenting on this recently, Idoko said NACA was convinced that empowering women would help to reduce the rising occurrence of HIV and AIDS in the country.

“Empowering women will help us to drive down the prevalence of HIV and ensure the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs. NACA gives a special and unique attention to women because nearly 60 per cent of the 3.5 million people living with HIV in the country are women. We need to take women as a vulnerable group to address their challenges,” the NACA chief said.

Vanguard Features VF investigations showed that NACA has recorded tremendous improvement in its battle against the scourge since the appointment of Idoko as the head of the agency.

A report by the African Leadership Magazine  corroborated claims that the HIV battle is being won in Nigeria despite reports that the country has the second highest HIV and AIDS infection rate.

The report said, “The HIV prevalence in the country which was 4.6 percent in 2008 has declined to 4.1percent in 2010.The number of people living with HIV/AIDS receiving anti-retroviral drugs increased from 230,000 at the end of 2008 to 500,000 at the end of 2011. The number of sites for providing these drugs increased from 296 at the end of 2008 to 491 at the end of 2011.”

According to the report, “Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission, PMTCT of HIV; the coverage of this important component has increased from seven percent  in 2008 to 32 percent in 2012 and the number of PMTCT centers has increased from 533 in 2008 to 800 in 2012.In December 2011, on the World AIDS Day, NACA working with the First Lady’s NGO, Women for Health and Development Initiative Integrated Health Program, WHD IHP, got the First Lady to launch “the Accelerated PMTCT Program” for the country and this will soon to be followed with zonal launches of the program. This is in a bid to get to 90 percent coverage of this program and get to an “AIDS free generation” with zero transmission of HIV from mother to child”.

It was also gathered that unlike in the past NACA has significantly achieved progress in terms of number of the people who have access to anti-retroviral drugs. For instance  in 2008, there were less than 300,000 people who were accessing the drugs. But the UNA 2010 report put it at nearly 400,000.

This figure which stands 600,000 is expected to increase to 1.2 million in 2014.

Idoko who spoke during the 2013 meeting of NACA and State Agencies for the Control of AIDS outlined the agencies next line of action.  “Key of those things we want to do are: one, we want to double the numbers of people who are on drugs right now from 600,000 to 1.2 million. We want to test so many. Our target is 80 million. In the last four weeks, we have raised the tempo round the country as far as testing is concerned. We want to ensure that we can intervene in pregnant women who are HIV positive so they don’t transmit the virus to their babies. We also want to address the issue of young people”.

“The youth group constitutes about seventy per cent of the nation’s population and they are most at risk of the virus. The cardinal thing we are doing is to discuss with the people at the state level to see how they can go back and start looking at the data and the plan that can take us there,” he said.

Idoko said the aim of the forum was to ensure that states, local governments and the communities drive the response to achieve the universal access target by 2015. He maintained that one of the biggest challenges the Agency faced was the distribution of the HIV and AIDS fund to civil society groups in the states.

Noting that penalties would be given to states that failed to disburse the HIV and AIDS funds properly, he said: “What we agreed at the last mid-term review meeting is that if by the end of December 31, any state that has not disbursed its fund, we will take it and allocate it to something that is our priority.”

The result of these gains recorded by NACA in carrying out its core functions as well as strengthening the institutional structure, is that it has positioned itself as one of the very core institutions that will help in the attainment of the MDGs and a focal point of the present administration’s transformation agenda. It was therefore not surprising that on March 3, 2013, Professor John Idoko was reappointed as head of the agency.

Speaking to Vanguard Features,VF, a Public Health expert,  Dr. Hayatou Sumaila lauded the performance of the agency. “The agency has also grown to be more versatile in terms of exploring funding avenues. This has also given rise to high level of integrity in the management and disbursement of funds made available to the agency both from the Federal government and other donor agencies,’’ he said.

Asked if 2013 was   remarkable in the race against the disease, he responded thus: ‘’If you are conversant with the holistic approach adopted against HIV spread, you will be convinced that many steps were taken forward towards fighting HIV/AIDS. More needs to be done in 2014 but we are doing well.”

”One challenge that keeps starring on the face of the interventionist Agency is however that of taking its awareness campaign to the rural dwellers and at the same time identifying genuine NGOs as partners in progress. It is expected that the agency will focus more on this noticeable challenge in the years ahead,” he suggested.

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