By Gabriel Olawale
Recently, the National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS (NACA) in Nigeria, expressed worry over the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria as latest statistics rated Nigeria as having second highest Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) epidemic profile in the world.
Nigeria also has the highest number of children contracting HIV in the world, according to the United Nations. In 2017, an estimated 1.8 million children were orphaned by AIDS, which experts said could have huge impact on their health, safety and wellbeing.
Seeing the destructive power of the scourge on Nigeria’s greatest assets which is its human capital, a non-governmental organization, Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS, NIBUCAA, established in 2003, has been in the forefront of the fight against the scourge, especially from within work places.
NIBUCAA which currently comprises of 36 leading businesses across the country and committed to fighting the menace at all levels, represents the voice of Nigerian private sector response to HIV/AIDS.
The organization which over the years has been able to provide succor to many affected Nigerians has the vision to galvanize the resources and technical expertise of the private sector towards addressing pressing challenges of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at all levels of intervention in Nigeria.
Commenting on why it is important for the private sector to partner with NIBUCAA in its drive to eradicate HIV/AIDS from Nigeria, Executive Secretary of NIBUCAA, Gbenga Alabi, quoting Juan Somavia, a former Director General of the International Labour Organization, said two out of three people living with HIV or AIDS go to work everyday, making the workplace s vital entry point for tackling the menace.
He said approximately 150,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in Nigeria in 2017, adding that since 2005, the reduction in the number of annual AIDS-related deaths has been minimal, indicative of the fact that only 33 per cent of those with a positive diagnosis in Nigeria are accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART).
According to him, the priorities to funding innovation in global healthcare have hit an all-time low in the annual investment for HIV prevention, research and development as major donors have reduced their support.
Alabi said for years, the treatment for HIV/AIDS has been largely run with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), adding that total funding from PEPFAR dropped from $409.1m in 2016 to $383.6m, in 2017.
At dinner party organized by NIBUCAA for its key sponsors which comprised of Access Bank, Shell Petroleum development Company, Total Exploration & Production Nigeria Ltd, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, Dangote Group and many others in Lagos penultimate weekend, Alabi said the platform is the response of the private sector towards tackling the issue.
He said with funding from these partners, NIBUCAA has been to utilize their core competencies and resources towards addressing the issue of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country.
According to him, the coalition which seeks to build a public-private partnership with government, civil society organization and international donor community, among other objectives, will promote activities encouraging demand for HIV voluntary confidential counselling and testing in the workplace.
Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, who is the co-chair of NIBUCAA said operators in the private sector must as a matter of necessity partners with NIBUCAA in other to tackle this issue.
“We have to realize that HIV/AIDS is not just a health problem, it is a developmental challenge. Therefore, the private sector cannot afford to be complacent with regards to the scourge. It is eminently desirable that private sector supports all efforts geared towards the realization of the goal of the multi-sectoral response to HIV pandemic in particular under the Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.
He said more than 50% of the fund currently being used to provide the much needed drugs for those living with disease comes from abroad, and if that should stop, Nigeria would be the worst for it.
“Therefore, we should be able among ourselves raised some funds as the private sector to help agencies like NIBUCAA provide drugs and also help educate and sensitize the public, and in a way it will help curb the spread and end new cases.”
He said Access Bank and other partners have created a $168 million emergency fund to be raised among partners and dedicated for achieving NIBUCAA’s objectives.
For Nicolas Terras, Managing Director of Total E&P and a Co-chair on NIBUCAA board, it is high time Nigerians create their own response to the scourge, and the private sector must take the initiatives.
According to him, the fight against HIV/AIDS is too big for the government to handle alone. “Captains of industries have collective leadership roles to play in the multi- sectoral response to HIV and AIDS”
He said NIBUCAA, as a platform should be a veritable channel for the private sector to utilize their core competencies and resources towards addressing the issue of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country.
Head of Sustainability in Access Bank Plc, Mrs. Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan said since the establishment of NIBUCAA by former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, it has been able to get the private sector participation in the country’s battle against the HIV/AIDS scourge.
“Out of the one million Nigerians who are on HIV/AIDS treatment, Nigeria’s government is treating only 60,000. The remaining 840,000 were left for the United States government and other international donor agencies.”
She said although, NIBUCAA also get money from foreign donors to carry out its various humanitarian activities, what is accessed from foreign donors cannot cater for the programmes, and it is dwindling.
According to her, easy access to anti-retroviral drugs would also encourage more Nigerians to test to know their status, knowing that treatment is available. “As we call for more funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, we also advocate more enlightenment campaigns to halt the spread of the disease through unprotected sex and other means.”
According to her, there’re three levels of annual membership fees for member companies, Platinum membership goes for N15m, and Gold membership is N10m while Silver membership is N5m.
She said participating companies or those willing to partner NIBUCAA will benefit immensely from the partnership.
“Aside from providing access to training sessions and workplace interventions, NIBUCAA will also assist member companies to develop and implement workplace HIV/AIDS policies and progrmmes, including prevention education that will reinforce desired safer sex behavior, voluntary confidential counselling, testing, and treatment,” she said.
NIBUCAA which was put together on the premise that businesses have collective leadership roles to play in the multi-sectoral response to HIV/AIDS led by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, has on its board, Dr. Herbert Wigwe, MD/CEO of Access Bank Plc as Co-chair; Nicolas Terraz, MD/CEO Total Exploration & Production Nigeria Ltd, also a Co-chair.