June 16, 2009

Activists give knocks to FG’s policies on HIV

By Chioma Obinna
If recent moves by donor agencies to reduce its funding for HIV and AIDS treatment for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country are something to go by, Nigeria may stand the chance of losing not less than 250,000 PLHIVs on anti retro viral treatment in the next few years.

The reason for this moves that may lead to a major crisis in the treatment and care of PLHIVs in the country is due to due to the global economic crisis being witness all over the world.

Unfortunately, Nigeria which was one of the countries priding itself on gaining grounds with respect to addressing HIV and TB prevention, treatment care and support are yet to realise the situation on ground.
When in 1986 the first case of HIV was discovered in Nigeria, there so much noise matched with action but unfortunately, this zeal is almost gone if not dead.

These reasons and others were exactly what prompted the action of a coalition of African HIV and Tuberculosis activists to organise for the first time an African press conference calling on African leaders meeting at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town to prioritize health financing and close the resource gap in order to secure universal access to HIV and TB care.

However, Nigeria was not left out of the African press conference with the theme; “We are watching; Fund the fight against HIV &TB” which took place simultaneously in all the African countries.

Speaking at a briefing in Lagos organized by network of people living with HIV, the Project Director of Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA) Morolake Odetoyinbo called on Nigerian governments to urgently  review upward the budgetary allocation to health sector from 7 percent to 15 percent.

Odetoyinbo who lamented that the Nigeria Government has continued to pay lip service to HIV and TB treatment in the country declared that African governments have not committed enough to the treatment and care of the people.
Her words, “Nigeria is priding itself on gaining grounds with respect to addressing HIV and TB prevention, treatment care and support but have we really gained grounds? African leaders once more are being caught sleeping on duty. We live off other’s glory and leave our home front open.”

Noting that things have become worst since the exit of former President Obasanjo, Odetoyinbo noted that lives of many Nigerians living with HIV and TB are seriously in danger with the latest global economic crisis  since countries like Nigeria depends largely on foreign aids.

Noting that African leaders committed to investing 15 percent of their total budget to health regretted that Nigeria to date has not exceeded 7 percent which is she said is a total failure.

Stressing that in the light of the global economic crisis, Nigeria can’t solely rely on foreign aid to keep her people alive, she stressed the need for private sector to commit part of their profits to health care.

“The bulk of the Nigerian workforce are people in their reproductive age who are mainly affected by HIV and TB, thus, its imperative employers of labour who are profit making commit to supporting the Nigerian government. We must find creative ways to do this”

Continuing, she noted that without adequate financing, promises for access to diseases prevention, treatment would not be achieved and the communities would continue to be devastated by preventable and treatable illnesses.

Stating that the theme for this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) is “Implications of Global Economic Crisis for Africa” for people living with HIV in Africa region, the implications of the economic crisis are clear because 70 percent of the 1.9 million who are receiving antiretroviral treatment may see their access to treatment threatened in the next 12 months due to the economic crisis.

Among other demands by the HIV activists are honouring the 2001 Abuja declaration in which African heads of state pledged to devote 15 percent of national budgets to health, committing 0.7 percent of high – income countries revenue to overseas development assistance (ODA), to ensure that universal access to TB and HIV prevention, treatment and care as well as closing the gap for health resources amongst others.