December 9, 2015

Ending the HIV/AIDS menace

HIV/AIDS remains a global challenge for which there is no cure. In the three decades since the epidemic reached its height, 39 million people have died while 35 million people are living with the virus worldwide.

Most of the dead and infected are in sub-Saharan Africa or other low- and middle-income countries of the world.  The social stigma remains, but medical advances have allowed people with the disease to live longer, healthier lives.

Based on Nigeria’s multi-sectorial response to HIV/AIDS, led by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) the national HIV prevalence in Nigeria dropped from 5.8 percent in 1991, to 3.4 percent in 2013, going by the last National HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health (NARHS) Survey.

The universal goal of HIV prevention and control is to reduce new infections to zero by 2030, but worries remain about gaps in the number of people receiving treatment in Nigeria.

With a population of 3.8 million People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) which is equivalent to 10 per cent of the global HIV burden, only an estimated 520,000 are on treatment. Several hundreds of others that qualify for treatment are left out.

In 2013, 22 percent or 51,000 of all new child HIV infections that occurred globally were recorded in Nigeria and findings also show that the nation is not progressing as expected with its Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV or PMTCT programme because thousands of HIV positive pregnant women that are not on treatment still transmit the virus to their babies during or after birth.

Nigerians appear to be resting on their oars with the false perception that HIV/AIDS no longer poses  danger to our society. We must re-jig our information strategy to encourage behaviour change for key affected populations and urge all pregnant women to get screened for HIV. We must also invest more on PMTCT.

The message about HIV testing should be clear. Even with all the medical advances, it is essential to encourage HIV testing within the populace to ensure everyone knows their HIV status.  We must address complaints by people living with HIV/AIDS about dwindling access to treatment and join efforts to get international donors to renew interest in the funding for the eradication of the scourge.

Tackling the HIV epidemic with so many people not on treatment would be an exercise in futility. Therefore, the way to go is to ensure antiretroviral treatment is available and accessible for all people living with HIV.

Nigeria must adhere strictly to the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that everyone with a diagnosis of HIV should be placed on antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible, irrespective of viral load.